Mar.2 (GMM/Inautonews.com) With every passing test day, the feeling in the Barcelona paddock is growing ever stronger that Mercedes will decimate all comers early in 2016.
On Tuesday, as the last four days of pre-season running began, Nico Rosberg topped the field after finally running a set of soft tyres — beating Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who was using Pirelli’s much-faster ‘ultra soft’ compound.
Asked if that was a significant moment, Finn Bottas nodded.
“It’s quite tricky for anyone to challenge them (Mercedes) at the beginning of the season,” he said.
McLaren-Honda’s Fernando Alonso went one step further.
“They (Mercedes) would have to do something catastrophic to not win the world championship,” he told Spanish radio Cadena Cope.
“Vettel should be third, but I would not rule out Williams, Red Bull, Force India and hopefully us,” Alonso added.
According to Germany’s Bild newspaper, some insiders suspect that Mercedes has pulled ahead of the field thanks to its latest engine, which may have cracked the 1000 horse power barrier.
Team chairman Niki Lauda denies it: “At our level, there are no huge horse power jumps like that. Ferrari and Red Bull have more room for improvement than us.”
Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko adds: “Over the whole distance it would not be 1000hp, but perhaps on a fast qualifying lap.”
At the same time, Ferrari is making positive noises about its radical new car, but reliability problems have limited progress so far.
“Ferrari’s deficit (to Mercedes) is not small,” an insider told Auto Motor und Sport. “It has increased.”
Indeed, Nico Rosberg admitted that Mercedes did not want to show its hand on Tuesday, “but we also need to get a feeling for ourselves about where we are.”
And boss Toto Wolff denied Mercedes is sandbagging by not yet touching the fastest Pirelli ‘ultra soft’.
“It’s about the time schedules,” he insisted, “and that those tyres don’t really fit with this circuit.”
Rosberg admitted: “I have a very good feeling. Our level is very high at the moment. But Ferrari is close.”
When asked about Rosberg’s claims about Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen would not be drawn.
“I have no idea what Mercedes is doing in their programme and Mercedes has no idea about us,” he said. “So all the guessing is totally meaningless,” he said.
The Finn played down the huge pressure that is on Ferrari this year, after president Sergio Marchionne said the Maranello team must be targeting victory in Melbourne.
“That is everyone’s goal at Ferrari,” Raikkonen insisted, “not just the boss. In formula one, you always have pressure.”