Analysing the data from the opening pre-season test, Mercedes has asked why Ferrari was running its “PU consistently at much lower levels” than rival teams.
While Mercedes dominated the first three-day test, Ferrari did not feature inside the top ten on the overall timesheet.
Valtteri Bottas set the pace for Mercedes with a 1:15.732 while Sebastian Vettel was down in 14th place.
The German’s best time, a 1:18.154, was 2.4s off the pace while Charles Leclerc was a further tenth behind.
This led Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto to proclaim that the Scuderia are not where they wanted to be.
“Looking at the delta pace and eventually what we may assess in terms of fuel load, which you never know in terms of engine modes, etc – looking at the picture relative to ourselves, I think we are not as fast as they are,” said the Italian.
“I’m not as optimistic as last year. The others are faster than us at the moment I believe. How much faster I think it’s really difficult to judge.”
Mercedes, though, have a different reading of the situation.
“Far from discounting testing time analysis as meaningless, every team in the pit lane pores over the data as it emerges in order to build up a picture of the competitive pecking order,” explained the reigning World Champions.
“Using techniques that have been built up over a number of seasons it is possible to figure out, with surprising accuracy, what lies beneath the headline lap times that we see during winter testing.
“It is true, of course, that the strategists face a considerable string of unknowns. Fuel load, engine mode, tire performance and driver pushing level play havoc with the lap times and all of them are either unknown, or partially known.
“However, testing times are far from meaningless. If you look at them long enough, they gradually give up their secrets.”
One of those secrets, at least according to Mercedes, is that Ferrari’s SF1000 was carrying rather heavy sandbags over the course of the three days.
Analysing lap times, the number of laps, the habits of the teams and keeping a close eye on performances during race simulations, Mercedes came to several conclusions after the opening test.
And one of those is that Ferrari was running its engine at a “much lower level” than the likes of Alfa Romeo and Haas.
“At the end of the first day, a hazy pattern is present,” Mercedes continued. “By the end of the first test, that pattern comes into better focus.
“What, then, can we say about the leaderboard after three days? This is where life gets tricky because all these estimates are lower bound estimates. You can say with some confidence that your competitors are “at least as fast as X”, but you do not know for sure how much faster they could have gone.
“No-one wants the egg on their face of claiming that they are faster than another team, because they can never know for certain what was hidden or what is coming next.
“For example, will Red Bull bring a significant upgrade package to the second test? Why have Ferrari spent this test running their PU consistently at much lower levels than their partner teams?
“What we can say is that we predict the battle in Melbourne at the front is going to be tight. We can also see that the midfield have closed on the front and that there is some considerable midfield swing compared to last year’s competitive order.
“Testing times are not meaningless, they are a goldmine, if you’re prepared to sift through them with care and caution until a clear picture begins to emerge…”