Force India spring a surprise in Barcelona as Nico Hulkenberg ends the second day of testing on top…
If yesterday saw the teams having an exploratory poke around the Circuit de Catalunya then today the 10 runners got down to serious business with half the field managing over 100 laps. The only changes in driver line-up saw Vitaly Petrov replace Heikki Kovalainen at Caterham, Nico Rosberg come in for Schumacher at Mercedes, and Williams’ third driver Valtteri Bottas getting his first go in the FW34.
It was down to 10 runners after Lotus decided to pack up for the week. They were scheduled to test a second completed chassis this week, but after Romain Grosjean reported problems with it yesterday the team decided to return to the car that ran in Jerez. That plan was nixed after a preliminary investigation at Enstone threw up some troubling answers.
“We ran a series of simulations at the factory,” explains technical director James Allison, “and as a result we were able to identify an area which requires additional work. It will be more productive for us to carry out these modifications at Enstone rather than send E20-01 out to this week’s test. We will fix the problem before next week.”
Pulling the team out of the second of three tests just a few weeks before the cars are shipped to Australia for the first race is a big deal. It's a real shame, too, because in the hands of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Räikkönen the Lotus looks like a contender.
No such problems for Force India as Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time of the test so far, lapping the VJM05 in the mid-1m 22s. Hulk had a busy day, testing all four compounds in his 112 laps. Unsurprisingly he set his best times on the new supersofts.
“I did some short runs, long runs and just got a feel for the tyre characteristics and how the car reacts to them,” explained the former Williams man. “Once again the car has been very driveable all day and our baseline set-up has proved to be a good starting point for running all the different compounds.”
Second quickest of the day was Sergio Pérez. The Sauber has looked sharp in all tests so far – but it has been prone to niggling mechanical problems. Today was no different with the C31 pulling into the garage late in the day sounding like a bag full of hammers.
Pérez, however, was satisfied to sign off his test with sufficient mileage behind him: “Today was a lot better, even though we lost a bit of track time because of the exhaust problem. I am happy with how things went. We have gathered plenty of information to go through and I believe we are working in the right direction.”
Red Bull Racing
The only other driver to break the 1m 23s mark was Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull’s day was not without incident, though. The morning's pit stop practice was curtailed because the equipment kept freezing, then Vettel lost a couple of hours to technical gremlins. Nevertheless the team managed to get the bulk of its work done with a qualifying simulation in the morning and a full race simulation in the afternoon.
“I’m happy that we got a lot of laps done. Unfortunately, we had a little bit of a problem: it was small, but with testing you stop whenever there’s an issue, take a look and see what’s what. But in the afternoon I was happy. We got a lot of laps done, more than 100, so we got through most of the programme.”
Things weren’t so rosy at Toro Rosso. Daniel Ricciardo caused two red flags, though the first was intentional as the team discovered how far the STR7 will run on fumes. The second was rather more terminal with a drive shaft problem taking a big chunk out of Toro’s day.
Handing over to Jean-Eric Vergne tomorrow, Ricciardo tried to see the positive side: “The afternoon did not go to plan, but the morning was positive and we did all the runs we had planned for. We worked on making adjustments to the car balance, also trying some different mechanical changes to the car, which is why I did mainly short runs. I could feel the effect of these changes and the car reacted in the way we expected.”
Caterham's issues were less mechanical and more to do with getting Vitaly Petrov comfortable for his first run in the car. Signed at the 11th hour, Petrov is bigger than Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, so a shoehorn and crowbars were called for along with the Russian’s seat.
“This morning we had a couple of issues with the seating position and the brakes, but you expect that from a new car and they were little things we were able to fix quickly,” said Petrov. “In the afternoon we put in a few more long runs. Physically I feel really good. It’s obviously been a while since I’ve been in a car, but I’ve kept up my fitness levels and I enjoyed myself on track, so it’s a good first day back.”
Elsewhere in the pitlane, Fernando Alonso managed to keep his fans happy with a middle-of the-road 87 laps for fourth quickest, while Lewis Hamilton managed 121 steady laps for McLaren. His time was only good enough for sixth, though significantly the McLaren again looked rock solid and seemed very comfortable on long runs.
Rosberg had minor issues with the Mercedes but reported himself happy with progress, while Bottas got in a valuable 117 laps for Williams at almost exactly the same pace as Bruno Senna yesterday. Charles Pic rounded things off with 108 laps in the old Marussia/Virgin. Reports from Banbury say he’ll get a go in a new car next week.
Tomorrow is moving day with most teams switching drivers, though the programs will be much the same: mileage (and lots of it), plus tyres (and lots of them) as the clock ticks down to the Australian Grand Prix.
1. Hulkenberg – Force India | 1m22.608s | 112 laps
2. Perez – Sauber | 1m22.648s +0.040 | 85 laps
3. Vettel – Red Bull | 1m22.891s +0.283 | 104 laps
4. Alonso – Ferrari | 1m23.180s +0.572 | 87 laps
5. Ricciardo – Toro Rosso | 1m23.639s +1.031 | 48 laps
6. Hamilton – McLaren | 1m23.806s +1.198 | 121 laps
7. Rosberg – Mercedes | 1m24.555s +1.947 | 82 laps
8. Bottas – Williams | 1m25.738s +3.130 | 117 laps
9. Petrov – Caterham | 1m26.605s +3.997 | 69 laps
10. Pic – Marussia | 1m27.343s +4.735 | 108 laps