BARCELONA, Spain -- It's always risky to read too much into preseason testing time, but after crunching the numbers it is possible to rank the grid based on the information we have.
It's not necessarily the order that will line up on the grid in Melbourne (Albert Park is a very different type of track to the Circuit de Catalunya) but it is a rough estimation of how the teams are looking after two weeks in Barcelona.
Fastest lap: Valtteri Bottas - 1:15.732 (1st out of 10)
Laps: 903 (1st out of 10)
Even after six years dominating Formula One, it's clear Mercedes is still hungry for success. It arrived in the preseason paddock looking like the best prepared team in week one and it soon became clear its new car was dripping with innovation. DAS stole the headlines in the opening week, but the W11 is not a one-trick pony and it also features significant changes to its rear suspension and sidepod layout compared to last year's car.
It was no surprise to see the world champions top both tests, and based on Valtteri Bottas' 1:15.732 in the first week it was holding a decent amount in reserve for test two. Long run pace appeared to give Mercedes a healthy margin over Ferrari, but difference in track conditions between week one when the world champions did their race simulations and week two when Ferrari did its means comparisons are fraught with inconsistencies.
The only concern for Mercedes is around reliability after it suffered power unit failures in both weeks.
Strengths: The Mercedes looks fast everywhere, but its biggest strength this week appeared to be in low-speed corners at the end of the Circuit de Catalunya lap. That bodes well for Australia, which is a track that has always suited Mercedes, but in reality the W11 will be quick everywhere. Add to that the extra flexibility DAS offers, and Mercedes appears to have the fastest car on the grid at this stage.
Weaknesses: Reliability is a genuine concern for Mercedes as it prepares for the opening race in Australia.
The team suffered three potential showstoppers over the two weeks while its main rivals had fewer major issues. It twice suffered a problem with the ERS and also stopped on track with a loss of oil pressure. Mercedes' engine department has worked hard on last year's cooling issues but under strict orders not to add extra weight or reduce power. After two weeks in Barcelona, it seems there is still work to do to ensure a bulletproof engine for Melbourne and avoid the potential engine penalties later in the year.
2. Red Bull
Fastest lap: Max Verstappen - 1:16.269 (2nd)
Laps completed: 780 (5th)
Red Bull completed the two weeks of testing with an air of supreme confidence about it. It teased its pace throughout the two weeks, but saved its fastest runs for the final day when Max Verstappen's 1:16.269 was the second fastest time and just 0.073s shy of Bottas' despite using a harder compound tyre. However, that lap featured a mistake in the final chicane, and arguably his 1:16.384 on the harder C3 compound was more impressive and the standout time of the final day of testing.
Combined with the confidence-inspiring long-run pace shown in the first week, Red Bull appears to be in a much stronger preseason position than it has been for several years.
Strengths: The Red Bull looks fast in high-speed corners and was on a par with Mercedes in sectors one and two at the Circuit de Catalunya despite using a slower tyre. That strength may not make the difference at Albert Park, which is a very different circuit to Barcelona, but over the course of the season the RB16 promises to be a very competitive car.
Weaknesses: Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon had a number of spins over the two weeks of testing, mostly in low-speed corners. That could be a sign that the car is tricky on the limit and perhaps an indication that it won't show its best performance in Melbourne. However, Red Bull would rather have a car that is fast and difficult to drive than one that is just plain slow.
Fastest lap: Charles Leclerc - 1:16.360 (4th)
Laps completed: 844 (2nd)
Ferrari is convinced it is off the pace of Mercedes and all the data seems to back that up. There were suggestions it was trying to hide its pace but team principal Mattia Binotto denied that was the case, and whichever way you cut it, Ferrari appeared to be off the pace on performance runs and race simulations.
We know from Ferrari's misplaced optimism this time last year that test times can be misleading and there is a chance that the SF1000 comes to life on a different type of circuit in true competition. But based on what we've seen and the messaging from the team, Ferrari has serious work to do if it is going to mount a serious championship challenge from the very first race.
Strengths: Ferrari's main aim with its 2020 car was to increase downforce and in that regard it has definitely improved. Its performance in corners compared to last year is a step forward and the extra downforce should help the team with its tyre management and race pace, which was a major weakness last year. But Ferrari only seems to have levelled up in fast and medium corners while still lagging behind Mercedes in the slower corners.
Weaknesses: In seeking more downforce, Ferrari has had to trade some drag. That means the car has lost the straight-line speed advantage it held last year, and if anything it has fallen behind Mercedes and Red Bull. There are still suspicions Ferrari was keeping its powder dry on the engine side by running lower power modes on its quick laps, but it may well be the case that Ferrari has gone too far in its downforce/drag trade off.
4. Racing Point
Fastest lap: Sergio Perez - 1:16.634 (5th)
Laps completed: 782 (4th)
Analysing the midfield is even more difficult than ranking the top three, but Racing Point appeared to be the best of the rest in testing. It hasn't escaped anyone's notice that the new RP20 is based heavily on the design concepts of last year's Mercedes and the team has done nothing to hide that fact. In pursuing the Mercedes route, Racing Point has taken a sizable risk as last year's Mercedes W10 was a very different concept to Racing Point's RP19.
However, the risk seems to be paying off and on the final day of testing Sergio Perez set some very promising times across a range of tyre compounds. Of particular note was Perez's 1:16.658 on the C3 compound, which was faster than Lewis Hamilton's best attempt on that compound at the same time of day. However, the speed traps tell us Racing Point likely had the engine turned up, as Perez registered a 14km/h advantage over the Mercedes.
Further proof that Racing Point has not miraculously joined the front of the grid came on the race simulations, with Perez averaging times a second off Leclerc's over 66 laps. But when it comes to midfield teams, the Racing Point looks genuinely quick.
Strengths: The RP20 looked fast in the first sector of the lap, although that may well be down to the straight-line speed advantage of the higher engine mode it was likely running. Nevertheless, this car looks quick in high-speed corners and by all accounts has reacted well to the setup changes the team has toyed with.
Weaknesses: The Racing Point was losing time in the low-speed corners of the final sector compared to its rivals. That is not in line with the strengths and weaknesses of last year's Mercedes, but it may be the case that Racing Point has not yet optimised its setup for those types of corners. Onboard footage also appeared to show understeer in the car that the team will hope to dial out when it arrives in Australia.
Fastest lap: Carlos Sainz - 1:16.820 (6th)
Laps completed: 802 (3rd)
If Racing Point set the most impressive lap times of the midfield teams, McLaren was not far behind. On like-for-like performance runs on the C3, Carlos Sainz was just 0,164s off Perez and that's the kind of margin that could easily be flipped at the first qualifying session if it turns out McLaren was running a few more kilos of fuel in testing.
On Friday's race simulations, McLaren appeared to have an advantage of 0.1s over Racing Point -- again a margin that could easily be flipped in a real-life situation and one that was muddied by the fact McLaren used a harder compound than Racing Point for the final stint.
In terms of messaging, McLaren seems happy with its two weeks in Barcelona and it appears as though it has continued the good work that helped carry the team to fourth in last year's championship.
Strength: The McLaren appears to be a very solid car in all types of corners and one that responds well to set-up changes. We didn't see the team attempt a performance run on the softest compound on Friday, but given the expected gain that comes with it, Sainz would have expected to be in the same ballpark as Perez in the Force India.
Weakness: Although McLaren has seen clear benefits from continuing with the same concept as last year, there is a danger that it starts to run out of development options later in the year. That might not be a concern as the team turns its full attention to 2021, but McLaren will have to hope Racing Point, and to some extent Renault, don't find big chunks of lap time through the year.
Fastest lap: Daniel Ricciardo - 1:16.276 (3rd)
Laps completed: 743 (7th)
It seems as though Renault is in the mix with Racing Point and McLaren, and its raw lap times were actually quicker. As a result, we are not ruling out a situation in which Renault leaps up the order in Melbourne, but based on what we saw in Barcelona the car just seems a little bit more ragged than its rivals.
Part of that may well be down to Renault pursuing a new development direction at the front of the car this year. Under the skin, the team claims there are far fewer changes and it is confident it has made solid steps with engine performance and reliability, but it appears as though there is still plenty of work to do to get the best from the car as the season progresses.
One of peculiarities of the Renault team is that it is in a state of flux, with new technical director Pat Fry replacing former technical director Nick Chester over the winter. Fry did not seem entirely convinced by some of the decisions the team had taken in the development of the RS20 before his arrival, but that's not to say he won't be able to make the most of them.
Strength: The car showed impressive pace on the final day of testing, with the third fastest time overall. The strength was clearly in the final sector of the lap where Ocon set the third fastest sector time behind the two Mercedes drivers. The car is also no slouch on the straights and the combination could put the team in good stead for the opening rounds in Melbourne and Bahrain.
Weakness: From the outside the car looks unpredictable at times, which may be a sign that the drivers were pushing harder than their rivals but could also be a sign of some underlying handling difficulties. Melbourne will likely offer an answer, but as things stand it seems Racing Point and McLaren have the edge.
7. Alpha Tauri
Fastest lap: Daniil Kvyat - 1:16.914 (8th)
Laps completed: 769
With Honda making good progress and Alpha Tauri using 2019-spec Red Bull gearboxes and suspension, the recipe for the AT01 is a promising one. Yet the team showed very few indications that it had made steps on the same level as McLaren and Racing Point, meaning it could struggle to break into the top 10 in Melbourne.
Across the tyre range it appears to have a deficit to Racing Point and it also lost time to McLaren and Renault in the final sector of the lap, which is so often an indicator of low-speed cornering performance. The team's race simulation on Friday did not hint at any hidden pace as Kvyat's lap times averaged out to give an deficit of roughly 0.5s per lap to Perez and Sainz, who were on race simulations at a similar time of day.
Strengths: The Alpha Tauri appears to be a car with very few vices and that could be a useful strength if the aforementioned teams trip up. It appeared to run reliably and it wasn't lagging too far behind the other upper midfield cars in the first and second sectors of the Barcelona lap.
Weaknesses: Like the Racing Point, the Alpha Tauri appeared to be losing most of its lap time in the final sector. But unlike the Racing Point, it didn't show the pace on the harder tyre compounds to suggest it has latent performance in hand.
Fastest lap: Romain Grosjean - 1:17.037 (10th)
Laps completed: 649 (10th)
Haas approached this year's testing with the clear aim of avoiding the mistakes of last year. In 2019 the American team lost its way with development midway through the year and was left with a Jekyll-and-Hyde car that fell down the grid. The aim this season has been to gain a better understanding of the car in testing and learn from the mistakes of last year to pick a more fruitful development path for the coming months.
That partly gives an excuse for Haas' lack of raw pace in testing as it clearly didn't go chasing lap times with the same vigour as some of its midfield rivals. But equally there was nothing to suggest the car has multiple tenths locked away and race simulations suggest the Haas is 0.2s-0.3s off the McLaren and Racing Point, even accounting for the unusual timings of the long runs by Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean on the last two days.
Strengths: The car looks solid on race pace even though the picture from Kevin Magnussen's race simulation on Thursday was skewed by conditions. Magnussen ran wide late in the day and struggled to get the temperature back into his tyres, but when that is accounted for the pace earlier in the run looked respectable.
Weaknesses: Haas' single lap pace did not look great at any point in testing. That may well be down to fuel loads and engine settings, but Grosjean and Magnussen will likely struggle to break the top 12 of the grid if all of the aforementioned teams are on song. That said, Haas would rather have race pace over single lap pace based on the numerous disappointments it had on Sundays in 2019.
9. Alfa Romeo
Fastest lap: 9. Robert Kubica - 1:16.942 (89h)
Laps completed: 735 (9th)
If one team disappointed during preseason it was Alfa Romeo.
The car may look nice in its red-and-white livery, but it showed no signs of the kind of pace it needs to be a regular top-10 contender. That may seem like an odd statement given that the car topped the timesheets twice in six days, but both were on occasions when the rest of the paddock was not pushing.
Reserve driver Robert Kubica's fastest time on day four proved to be the team's best of the two weeks, but that could also be telling if it came on the orders of title sponsor Orlen -- which backs Kubica -- to drain the tank and put their man at the top. But to underline how misleading such laps can be, that time was only good enough to be fastest on Wednesday but was only the ninth fastest time (by team) overall.
Long runs didn't look any better, with Antonio Giovinazzi lagging 0.4s behind the Haas and 0.7s behind the McLaren. The same was true of Kimi Raikkonen, who was 0.4s off the Alpha Tauri before an issue cut his race simulation short.
Strengths: It's hard to pick one from the running we saw, but first sector times looked competitive, suggesting straight-line speed and high-speed cornering performance is not a major problem.
Weaknesses: The car looked unpredictable on track and appeared to suffer from understeer and snap oversteer. Inconsistent race simulations suggest the new Alfa Romeo is not an easy car to drive.
Fastest lap: .George Russell - 1:16.871 (7th)
Laps completed: 737 (8th)
One team has to come last in Formula One and for the third year in a row it looks like it will be Williams. But the team should still be proud of its progress this year, especially compared to 12 months ago.
The biggest step was having a car ready on time for the opening day of the test, but it soon became clear that the FW43 was a big step up on its predecessor in terms of performance too. The team didn't have the budget to start from scratch this year, but by focusing on its weak points it may well have caught up with the back of the midfield pack.
Strengths: George Russell's fastest time was quicker than anything set by Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo or Haas during testing. Unsurprisingly, it was set on the softest compound but impressively it matched Sainz's fastest lap in the first and second sector. While we are not saying the Williams is in the mix with McLaren (the Williams was on C5s and the McLaren on C4s), the fact the lap time was in the right ballpark is a massive step forward.
Weaknesses: The car still appears to be lacking overall performance compared to the rest of the grid and reliability is also a concern. Williams suffered three high-profile Mercedes engine issues and was becoming increasingly critical of its engine supplier by the end of the week. Imagine if a failure costs the team a solid points finish in Melbourne.