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Mercedes head to Aust as F1 team to beat

Formula One champions Mercedes will head to Melbourne for next month’s season-opener as the top team in testing but Australian star Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault has also showed promising pace.

Valtteri Bottas produced the quickest lap from the six days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya and also on the final Friday.

But Ricciardo was third fastest over the six days with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth and world champion Lewis Hamilton fifth.

Ricciardo drove the RS20 in the morning session for the final time in Barcelona on Friday before the first race of the campaign in Melbourne on March 15.

“I’m pretty happy with my running today and finishing top of the timesheets in the morning session was a bonus,” said Ricciardo.

“But it’s testing so I’m not getting overly excited about it.

“We’ve improved the overall balance of the car, worked through some set-up changes and our reliability has been strong.

“I believe we’ve cranked up more kilometres on the engine tests back at Viry than we’ve ever had before, so this combined with our results over the two tests are ultimately encouraging signs ahead of the start of the season in Australia.”

Finn Bottas’ best time of one minute 15.732 seconds was set last week but he also topped the week-two timing screens with a 1:16.196.

Mercedes will be chasing their seventh successive title double this season, with Hamilton also after a seventh drivers’ crown to equal Michael Schumacher’s record.

The Briton said he had total confidence in the team to sort out any lingering issues and was looking forward to going racing again.

Hamilton and Bottas completed 787km between them on Friday, with Hamilton doing 90 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix circuit and Bottas 79.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was the second fastest driver overall, with a 1:16.269 and on the harder C4 tyre compared to Bottas’s C5.

“I definitely feel ready for Melbourne and the last two weeks have been a good preparation. We tried everything we wanted to over the six days which is very important from our side, so I’m happy with that,” said the Dutch driver.

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