If one term could be used to describe pre-season testing, it is this: "It's hard to tell"

Tyres, fuel loads, sandbagging, long runs, short runs... the question from the media was persistent - 'where do you think you will be positioned come Australia' - and the response was frustratingly, though probably understandably, non-committal.

Can you read too much into testing? Not so much these days and even less so as teams pack a series of tests into a smaller 8 day programme. Still, whilst the combined results don't tell the full story, let's say it does present an enticing trailer for what is to come.

Despite Nico Rosberg's suggestion that Ferrari could be ahead (he didn't sound terribly convinced of his own words as he sought to play down his own team for the good of anticipation), Mercedes seemingly have the edge overall still. From the moment the new W07 left the pits on the opening morning of the first test, pounded in the laps straight away and looked quick in any guise, the dye was seemingly cast.

Over the course of the test the W07 clocked up 1294 laps and 6023km, but while the team didn't post immediately headline grabbing lap times, this can be explained away by the focus on longevity and race pace, as well as the fact it only went as aggressive as the soft tyres.

For this reason, there is some headlines going on here, Mercedes' pursuit for development and understanding of the W07 meaning the times it did produce in the brief moments it went for the soft tyre - a best of 1min 23.022secs from Nico Rosberg - are worth reading into.

So while Mercedes have kept their cards close to their chest, if we can assume the ultra-soft and super-soft are worth one second and half a second respectively over the soft tyre, Rosberg could have been looking to being around seven tenths faster over a single lap on the softest tyre. Of course, measuring it isn't quite as simple as that, but there is certainly plenty of margin for error either way.

One of the reasons for the huge mileage and solid reliability of the W07 is the small gains to be made on the Mercedes power unit, while Ferrari, Honda and Renault all had substantially revised units. This specification of power unit I'm told is called the G/F spec and is very similar to the power unit introduced by Mercedes at Monza last year. The reason for this is that Mercedes HPP was taken by surprise by the introduction of in season development in 2015 and ended up bring in its early spec 2016 unit well ahead of schedule.

Though there were no speed traps to analyse in Spain, Ferrari is perceived to have closed the gap to Mercedes in this area, with the drivers - and the customers - all saying there has been an improvement. However, with the performance has come some niggles, which struck the Haas and the works team quite badly. How much improvement Ferrari has made is not exactly clear, its fastest times were set on the super-soft and ultra-soft tyres but they made brief appearances only.

Discussions by some of secret or overlooked laps are misleading too as they rely on fairly basic extrapolations which do not really stack up. Ferrari clocked up 856 laps, 3,984.68km a lot less than its rivals and had rather a lot more technical issues, most of them related to the new power unit.

The reality is that with Ferrari's power unit boost (and also significant chassis gains) and Mercedes remaining relatively static on the power unit side the Italians have apparently closed the gap in terms of outright pace at least for now, and over a race distance the swing in form seems to have Ferrari in range with Mercedes. As can often be the case with the modest Mercedes, the hand may be far from fully revealed.

Indeed, Mercedes has not simply downed tools and waited for the others to catch up. It will bring substantial developments to the power unit during the season, and that could see it open the gap up once again. In addition its huge amount of running in Barcelona will have given it a good understanding in terms of tyre performance and its drivers confidence in the new machine.

In conclusion, Ferrari have certainly made strides in some areas - maybe more than Mercedes - but there are potentially drawbacks, whereas Mercedes has made a solid move in one direction, with superb reliability, good pace regardless of compromise and the threat of more to come... despite Rosberg's determination to play things down.

 

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