As the sun rose over the Circuit de Catalyna this morning, teams entered into the final 24 hours of testing prior to the curtain raiser in Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, the intrigue continues to build as teams begin to reveal more clues providing hints as to what this season’s pecking order could look like.

After yesterday’s revelation that Hamilton percieves Ferrari to have the best package heading into the season, today was particularly intriguing, as we armchair pundits frantically studied the times in an attempt to find evidence for Hamilton’s suggestion. In reality, it was Williams who provided further evidence that they could, in fact, be dark horses.

Meanwhile, Mercedes seemed to turn up the power on their W08.

Here are FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED on day six of pre-season testing…

Valtteri Bottas D6

One stop races all-but guaranteed

Shark fins aside, the 2017 regulations have provided awe-inspiring aesthetics and monumental cornering speeds but it seems that strategic intricacy may be all but banished from race chatter. Based on evidence to date, races will largely be one-stop affairs in 2017. Cue the collective groan.

Cue the collective groan.

Lewis Hamilton provided the clearest indication of this fact today. The Mercedes man completed 20 consistent and consecutive laps on the ultrasoft tyre, managing to stay within a second across the stint.

This, on a tyre that should fall apart on the demanding Barcelona circuit. If Hamilton can manage 20 laps on the softest compound at one of the toughest circuits, drivers should be able to take this season’s Pirelli’s to the moon and back before even mentioning degradation.

Mercedes begin to stretch their legs

There were several clear indications that Mercedes were beginning to stretch their legs today.

Valtteri Bottas’ 1:19.310 has set a new benchmark as the fastest time of pre-season. The Finn set the time equipped with the supersoft tyre. While an ultrasoft would theoretically be faster, they have so far been similar compounds with regards to outright performance.

However, this time is still impressive upon viewing the on-board footage, when it becomes clear that Bottas’ isn’t exactly “wringing the neck” of his W08. Visual hints of sandbagging can be detected, which is ominous for the opposition who just yesterday, seemed to be gaining momentum.

Williams to be 2017’s dark horses?

Testing inevitably results in a busy Twitter timeline. Every now and again, while scrolling through countless updates from those trackside, you tend to come across a tweet which makes you stop cycling and pause for thought.

Today, it was Will Buxton whose tweet proved the source of intrigue.

Williams had another great day. Felipe Massa once again racked up impressive mileage this morning, clocking 63 laps and getting to within a tenth of Bottas’ benchmark. When Lance Stroll took over in the afternoon, the Canadian quietly worked his way up to fifth on the timesheets with a 1:20.579. An impressive time, given that today was all about the rookie simply re-building confidence.

We obviously don’t know how much the opposition are sandbagging. The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will hope that this is Williams showing their hand early. If they are holding anything back, then the popular independent could be about to shock the F1 world in 2017.

Did Ferrari have a technical issue?

Not so much what we learned, but rather a question we asked, as Ferrari endured a day ending prematurely and in bizarre fashion. Kimi Raikkonen suffered a spin midway through Turn Three, firing his SF70H into the barrier.

Usually, a driver will have a moment on corner entry or corner exit, but for a car to lose grip at the midpoint of a long corner is very rare. Perhaps Ferrari were experimenting with setup and Raikkonen was struggling with rear end stability. Mercedes were certainly experimental yesterday and Lewis Hamilton was decidedly nonplussed in his post-session interviews, having driven all morning with a poor car balance.

Ferrari could easily be at a similar point in their pre-season programme and as a result, fans should not be overly concerned by Raikkonen’s excursion.

Start procedures will challenge drivers to an even greater extent in 2017

The elastic clause within the regulations that states “drivers must drive their cars alone and unaided,” has come into play regularly of late. This season, increased removal of driver assistance with regards to the start procedures will see this clause put into use once again.

Linear torque control is required via the single clutch paddle that drivers have access to. The easiest way of explaining this is to think of a clutch in a road car. Drivers have to manually find the bite point and sweet spot between bogging down or suffering wheelspin.

Drivers have reported that the new procedures have made launches more complicated and errors are far more frequent. Given that starts were refreshingly unpredictable with last year’s regulations, 2017 could see more drama on the starting grid.

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