The third and final F1 tests of the winter kicked off at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya yesterday giving teams the last real chance to road test set-up options before the Australian Grand Prix.
Ten cars lined up in the pitlane for the first day of running. Marussia were expected to be a no-show after failing one of their crash tests but it wasn’t quite so clear what was going on at HRT (not the first time we’ve said that and probably not the last). In the end the Spanish didn’t produce a car but they did test a snazzy new motorhome and they’re still hopeful about getting their new car into the game this week.
The other big news was Caterham changing their driver line-up, putting Vitaly Petrov in the car today. Heikki Kovalainen was scheduled to drive but it down with food poisoning.Fortunately it doesn’t seem too serious as he still had the strength to Tweet in some detail about his condition. Some things are perhaps best not shared with social media Heikki…
Romain Grosjean made a happy return for Lotus, setting the fastest time of the day, albeit managing only 73 laps. Technical director James Allison, who earlier in the week revealed fixing last week’s problem with a front suspension mounting had cost the team a little extra weight but nothing serious, explained that playing catch-up for the missed test has consequences for the mileage the team is able to complete.
“Our main target … was to compress as much set-up work as we could into the first day as we are playing catch-up relative to our rivals at this track. Of course, we want to complete as many laps as possible, but this second objective is inevitably compromised by needing to make many short runs punctuated by set-up changes. Obviously, we’re very pleased to complete the day without any major difficulties to the car after such a troubled start here last week.”
After modelling McLaren’s smart new Hugo Boss outfits, Jenson Button went second quickest, though likewise failed to rack up a big lap count. As with Lotus – though for different reasons – the McLaren went though several time-consuming setup changes during the day . Team manager David Redding said: “Having completed more than 2000km at Barcelona last week, today was always going to be more about quality than quantity. We wanted to drill a little deeper into our understanding of the car, and that meant undertaking some bigger set-up changes that wouldn’t ordinarily be available to us during a grand prix weekend. “We made good progress and we’re satisfied with today’s results.” And there was us thinking Jenson might have been eating at the same restaurant as Heikki last night…
No such downtime for Hinwil’s finest as Pérez knocked out 118 laps for Sauber, finishing third on the time sheets and reinforcing the idea that the Swiss team has come up with a very competitive package for 2012. “I think this was a very good day for me,” reflected Pérez . “The car was performing well under varying conditions. We are working in the right direction, and I’m very much looking forward to getting into the car again.”
Red Bull Racing
Mark Webber managed a century for the first time in the testing season, putting 102 laps onto the RB8. It was, said Mark, a good beginning to a busy week: “We’re here at the last test now, it’s starting to build up for the first race and we’re pretty excited for that. However, we still have plenty to go through this week but so far so good.
“There are so many things to consider when we have a condensed winter programme like this. You need to get your priorities right and concentrate on those. That’s where experience comes in – and we have plenty of that. It’s going well so far but there aren’t enough hours in the day at the moment, though I’m sure we’re not the only team feeling that.”
Nico Rosberg continued to build on last week’s impressive debut by the Mercedes W03 by adding another 128 laps to the clock. While not going for headline times, the Mercedes looked solid on track. “I'm very happy with the first day of our test programme today,” said Nico. “We were able to complete a lot of laps and tried a few different things which worked out well. Some of the evaluations were really interesting which makes the day good fun for me, and it’s nice to find out what the car can do. We had no reliability problems, which is good as it’s important to get mileage on the car. We are making progress, but we don't know really where we are compared to the others.”
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne spent the day concentrating on set-up work and short runs and while his race simulation is planned for day two of the test, the team made sure he got lots of pitstop practice, much to the dismay of the media as today Toro’s box is directly beneath the press room. “It was a good day and I completed more laps than on any of my other times in the car so far,” said Jean-Eric to those still retaining some hearing. “I am feeling more confident and comfortable and I think we are also making steady progress on car development. The pit stops are also getting better.”
Sahara Force India
Massa managed 105 laps, but none of them particularly stellar. Ferrari insist the car is making good progress, and there are glimpses that the F2102 looks more comfortable on track. Like Red Bull Racing, Ferrari hadn’t planned to start their testing until tomorrow – though the FIA knocked that on the head after clarifying exactly what a directive about not testing in the week before a grand prix actually meant.
Vitaly Petrov at Caterham will probably wake up in the morning as sore as Heikki Kovalainen, having hammered out 123 laps in a hastily-rigged borrowed race seat. “My race seat will be in the car for Sunday so I think we can make more progress then, when I know I’ll be fully comfortable in the car,” said the Russian, seeing the bright side.
Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile brought up the rear of the field managing just 58 laps in the process. The Williams had its new front wing in place for the first time today, but a series of issues kept it in the garage for large chunks of the day – but with three days to go it’s still in prime position to win the mileage battle this winter.
1 Romain Grosjean | Lotus | 1m23.252s73 laps
2 Jenson Button | McLaren | 1m23.510s +0.25864 laps
3 Sergio Perez | Sauber | 1m23.820s +0.568118 laps
4 Mark Webber | Red Bull Racing | 1m23.830s +0.578102 laps
5 Nico Rosberg| Mercedes | 1m23.992s +0.740128 laps
6 Jean-Eric Vergne | Toro Rosso | 1m24.216s +0.964113 laps
7 Paul Di Resta | Sahara Force India | 1m24.305s +1.05398 laps
8 Felipe Massa | Ferrari | 1m24.318s +1.066105 laps
9 Vitaly Petrov | Caterham | 1m24.876s +1.624123 laps
10 Pastor Maldonado | Williams | 1m25.587s +2.33558 laps
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