FORMULA ONE: Lewis Hamilton clocks up miles in Barcelona

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during testing ahead of the 2016 Formula One season at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during testing ahead of the 2016 Formula One season at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona.
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Lewis Hamilton hailed an “incredible” week of testing after he completed nearly 1,000 miles at the opening pre-season test.

Hamilton, the triple world champion, turned in 99 laps before lunch on Thursday to take his tally for the week to 342 - which equates to more than five race distances.

The Briton had already been earmarked as the favourite to win a third consecutive championship, and there has been little evidence this week to suggest that Hamilton and his Mercedes team will not be the ones to beat when the season gets under way in Melbourne next month.

“It’s been an incredible week of testing for us because we’ve done more mileage than we ever had before,” said Hamilton.

“Before we came here, the team were talking about doing 800km (497 miles) a day and I was thinking they are crazy. I’ve never done that in the past.

“Usually you have breakdowns with the car. Not just for us, but for lots of people, there’s been no red flags. There’s a lot more reliability which I guess you would expect with the third year of this type of power unit.”

While the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen ended yesterday morning’s session on top of the timings, it is the stunning mileage clocked up by the reigning world champions which has caught the eye this week.

Hamilton, whose team-mate Nico Rosberg resumed testing duties for Mercedes after lunch, added: “It’s a really exciting time for us. I’ve never had a week like this when the car has just kept going on and on.

“It’s been physically challenging, but I’m so proud of my guys. After two really successful years it’s really easy to drop the ball and be chilled but everyone has worked even harder than before - which we thought was impossible.”

The opening winter test has become somewhat of a sideshow this week after a list of proposed new regulations - including a revamped qualifying format - were drawn up by Formula One’s Strategy Group in Switzerland on Tuesday.

A “Driver of the Day” award has also been proposed, with fans encouraged to vote during the race. Sceptics have already predicted this is likely to become a popularity contest rather than anything more substantial.

Hamilton, already critical of the direction the sport is taking, added: “Driver of the Day doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like a pointless exercise and I don’t really have positive things to say about it.”

The new qualifying format, now set to be introduced in time for the Australian Grand Prix on March 20, will see the slowest drivers eliminated every 90 seconds after a timed period - rather than at the end of the three sessions - in hope of providing greater unpredictability.

Hamilton added: “I don’t really feel like it is going to change much to be honest, but I hope it is a surprise for us all and I hope it does.”

Hamilton, competing in his 10th season in Formula One this year, is the favourite to win his third consecutive championship, and fourth in all.

But the Briton’s dominance has attracted criticism, not least from Ecclestone, who said ahead of this week’s opening winter test in Barcelona, that the sport was “the worst it has ever been”.

“I don’t think the regulations are fine even if there were five teams [competing at the front]”, Hamilton added.

“I don’t know what the answer is but whatever decisions they have been making they have not been working for some time, many, many years.”

While Mercedes and their seemingly bulletproof reliability enjoyed another trouble-free day in Barcelona, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso missed the majority of the day’s action following a water leak.

The second and final four-day test of the winter starts here on Tuesday before Melbourne’s Albert Park plays host to the first race of the season.