Jolyon Palmer thinks Mercedes still have plenty of questions to answer despite Valtteri Bottas‘ improvement through the second afternoon of pre-season testing.
The seven-time consecutive World Champions had been enduring a troubled time in Bahrain until Bottas forced his way to the top of the timesheet.
The Finn had been the main victim in terms of track time as a gearshift problem meant he got only six laps on the opening day.
Sir Lewis Hamilton had spun into the gravel on Saturday morning, keeping him off the circuit for 78 minutes, while gearbox problems also affected customer team Aston Martin to increase Mercedes’ worries.
But Bottas had a clearer spell as darkness descended on Sakhir heading into Saturday evening and with the softest tyres strapped onto his car, he gradually got quicker as his team assumed their customary place at the top of the standings.
Saturday in Sakhir ✅ 116 laps for W12 and the boys
Pleased with that. 👊 pic.twitter.com/pOLtpMazZ4
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 13, 2021
F1 pundit Palmer, however, is doubtful about whether the recovery means Mercedes are properly back on their game, given they had largely been off the pace set by McLaren in particular.
“You know what? I’m still not convinced by them,” Palmer said in his post-day two analysis on F1 Tv.
“I’m sure they will be good because they are Mercedes and they are always good in this era. I don’t doubt that they will be great, but they did throw quite a lot in that [afternoon] session.
“Valtteri ran two sets of C4 tyres, then he went to the softest C5 tyres and just about pipped Pierre Gasly’s time on the same tyre. The cars look similar but it looks like it’s handling a lot better than it has been, which is a positive.
“Valtteri looked more in control than Lewis [Hamilton] did on Friday afternoon, certainly, and he had no spin like Lewis. And they got loads of laps in, so it is better, but honestly on the same tyre you’ve got Mercedes, AlphaTauri, Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin who popped in a similar time as well.
“Just behind them you’ve got Lando Norris and the McLaren looking good. You can put them in different colours but they all look the same. It’s all about what fuel loads they have each got, so it’s actually quite impossible to tell at the moment.”
Palmer also fears for Ferrari, who were giving no early signs of significant improvement after last year’s poor campaign – with Carlos Sainz experiencing some early wobbles after joining the Scuderia.
“I found the long-run stuff more interesting than the short runs because there were more variances,” added Palmer. “And you get a better idea of the fuel level on the long runs because you are assuming they are all trying to do a race simulation, which is about 100 kilos of fuel.
“So I think AlphaTauri looked strong and were a long way ahead of Ferrari, who I’m quite worried for at this stage. The [Ferrari] car looks a handful. [Charles] Leclerc was running wide and Sainz had a few spins and doesn’t look settled in the team.
“We saw [Pierre] Gasly pretty much matching Sergio Perez in the Red Bull, so AlphaTauri look like they could be a bit of a factor in the midfield.”