By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Ferrari Formula One boss Mattia Binotto said on Friday he was less optimistic about his team’s pace than he had been in testing last year and rivals were faster than them.
Champions Mercedes have been impressively quick in the first week of testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya while Ferrari, their closest rivals last year, stood out on Friday for an engine problem that halted Sebastian Vettel.
On Wednesday, the first day all of the 2020 cars were out on track together, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc managed only the 11th fastest time.
Vettel was sixth and Leclerc eighth on the Thursday timesheets.
Leclerc said afterwards that Ferrari were taking a different approach after last year setting the pace on the test track but then having their hopes dashed in the opening races.
“The others are faster than us at the moment, I believe,” Binotto told reporters on Friday.
“How much faster I think it’s really difficult to judge. We will go through all the data in the next days, but I don’t think we are as fast as them at the moment.”
He was speaking after Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had lapped three tenths off his pole position time from last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, which remains an all-time track record.
Team mate Lewis Hamilton, aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s record seven titles this year, was fastest on Wednesday.
Racing Point, whose car looks like a pink painted version of last year’s Mercedes, have been fast and reliable while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has been noticeably cheerful after a prodigious number of laps.
“Do we have any concerns? Certainly yes, when you are not as fast as you would like to be,” continued Binotto. “But I think it’s really too early to define them and to understand.
“So these three days for us have been very important because at least we have collected all the data now to have a clear picture and better understanding.”
Providing some hope for Ferrari fans desperate for the team’s first title since 2008, when they won the constructors’ championship, Binotto said the season was long and all was not lost.
“I think there will be time to recover eventually,” he said. “I think Ferrari will be a beater if you consider the overall of the season. Will Ferrari be a beater already in Australia? Maybe not.”
Ferrari won three races last season, two of them with Leclerc, but let other good chances slip through their fingers through mechanical failures or driver error.
The season — which could be a record 22 races if the Chinese Grand Prix is reinstated later in the year after being called off due to the coronavirus — starts in Melbourne on March 15.
There are three more days of testing in Barcelona next week.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ros Russell)