RACE DEBRIEF

    As 2020 pre-season testing drew to a close in Barcelona, it was Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes who were left smiling, as they finished the final day of running on top of the timesheets, albeit just 0.073s to the good over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

    Bottas’ best time of 1m 16.196s on the softest C5 compound was nearly half a second down on his 1m 15.732s effort from last Friday that stands as the fastest time of the two weeks of testing – with the Finn earning the distinction of having set both the fastest and second fastest times of pre-season testing.

    Pace-wise, it was an encouraging day for Verstappen, however, with his P2 time set on the C4 tyre, meaning there’s pace in hand in the RB16 – although the Dutchman’s tally of just 45 laps for the day was less than ideal.

    AS IT HAPPENED: F1 Pre-season Testing 2020 – Day 3 of Test 2 in Barcelona

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    Daniel Ricciardo capped off testing in style for Renault by claiming the third fastest time of the day – and the fourth fastest of the test – setting a 1m 16.276s on the softest C5 tyre, although he would have been disappointed to run just 65 laps, with Renault having struggled for mileage in Barcelona over the past two weeks.

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    Ricciardo was ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, who set the Scuderia’s fastest time of the test with a 1m 16.360s on Friday – while the Monegasque also put in a monstrous 181 laps of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, comfortably the most of any driver on Friday.

    It was a sub-optimal final day for Haas, meanwhile, with Romain Grosjean surviving a brief trip through the gravel at Turn 7, before handing the car over to team mate Kevin Magnussen – with the Dane then managing just 29 laps, having been forced to park the VF-20 for most of the afternoon as the team sorted out a clutch issue.

    Albon spins into gravel on hot lap in Barcelona

    Despite that, it was a pleasingly red flag-free day in Barcelona, with Alex Albon’s trip into, and straight back out of, the Turn 12 gravel the most major incident on Friday. Albon finished slowest of the day’s 14 drivers, with Red Bull having kept him in the garage for part of the morning with the screens up, indicating that the team had removed the RB16’s floor – although it’s unclear what the exact issue was.

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    What may have disappointed fans slightly, however, was that the picture of the true pace of many of the teams still appears to be largely cloudy, with a final flurry of last-gasp, C5-shod, quali-style efforts failing to materialise as the clock ticked down on 2020 pre-season testing.

    So, with just two weeks to go before the season opener in Australia in March 15, it’s Mercedes who once again find themselves in the driving seat. Can anyone stop them barrelling towards their seventh straight constructors’ championship? Tune in to the Australian Grand Prix weekend to find out.

    Jolyon Palmer's verdict: Verstappen the dark horse on the final day of pre-season testing

    "Red Bull finally showed what they might be able to do in the dying embers of testing. Verstappen was right amongst it on a C4 tyre with everyone else setting their best times on the C5. If he'd had a C5 run, he would have topped the timing sheets today.

    "This backs up early credentials that they could be Mercedes' closest challengers.

    "But still, Bottas' time last week was half a second clear of anyone today which can't be ignored. Mercedes could be hiding some serious pace."