The Formula One testing programme saw the teams preparing their cars to go the full race distance, and while Williams enjoyed setting the pace for a change, for many of the teams and drivers, it was more of a test of patience …
At the halfway point in this test and, indeed, the halfway point of the winter testing season, most of the teams swapped drivers today. Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button came in for Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren respectively, while Pastor Maldonado took over for Williams, Kamui Kobayashi for Sauber, Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso and Paul di Resta at Force India.
Timo Glock had his first go in the old Marussia/Virgin this year and Michael Schumacher replaced Nico Rosberg. Vitaly Petrov continued in the Caterham – though Heikki Kovalainen was at the circuit scrounging lunch from the team bus. Smart boy that Heikki: Caterham’s cooking is superb.
As is to be expected as the testing programmes progress, the teams are beginning to get on top of the gremlins and for the first time everyone managed more than a race distance with Schumacher, making up lost ground from Mercedes’ gearbox-affected short day on Wednesday, leading the charts with a mighty 127 laps.
The man catching the eye, though, was Maldonado whose short run for Williams just before lunch set the fastest lap of the test to date: 1m22.391. Maldonado was on the supersoft tyres at the optimum time of day – suggesting Williams were a bit fed up with running at the back and wanted some sunshine.
“It was a good day today, as we completed all of our planned programme with no issues,” said Maldonado. “We have put more mileage on the car which is great for everyone here and back at the factory as we now have a lot more data to analyse. The car is progressing well.”
At the other end of things, the double wooden spoon went to Caterham, which may please their chefs. They completed the fewest laps and set the slowest time as Petrov, unsurprising given his lack of running in Jerez, struggled to get the car doing what he wanted.
“We spent quite a bit more time today looking at various areas of the car to help me find a set-up I’m really comfortable with,” said the Russian. “Once we’d sorted out this morning’s issue we were able to try a few different set-up options in the afternoon and by the last couple of runs I think we were heading in the right direction.”
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Jean-Eric Vergne had a fairly monotonous day at Toro Rosso, though he did get the opportunity to practice pitstops at the end of the day to break it up a little. “We got through a lot of work today, including some aero evaluation and different set-ups. We are learning more about our new car with every lap and it has performed well on this Barcelona track, which is always a true test of how a car is performing.
"Towards the end of the day, I had my first experience of proper F1 pit stops. It was a scary feeling at the beginning, coming in at 100 km/h and seeing so many people. At first, I was worried about hitting someone, but by the end I had got used to it. It’s an exciting experience!”
“Exciting” is only one of many colourful words the pitcrews tend to use when breaking in a rookie…
Jenson Button took over pretty much where Lewis Hamilton left off, remorselessly grinding out lap after lap after lap in the seemingly bulletproof McLaren. While it’s never run at the top of the timesheets the MP4-27 has been king of the long runs and looks a serious contender.
“We’ve done a lot of reliability work over the past three days – more than 100 laps on each day,” admitted Button. “We’ve also been really working hard to understand this year’s Pirelli tyres and getting the car to work efficiently around them. That’s a key part of the programme this winter.”
Red Bull Racing
At the moment McLaren’s stiffest challengers at Albert Park look like being Red Bull Racing but once again Milton Keynes’ finest didn’t have a trouble-free day with a gearbox issue stranding Mark in the garage for much of the morning. But he was able do a full race distance simulation in the afternoon to back up the one Sebastian Vettel did yesterday.
“All in all, it wasn’t a bad day,” said Mark. “It would have been nice to have done a few more laps, but I think everyone always wants to get 20 or 30 more and, even with the problem this morning, there were loads of positives to look at. We’re a very ambitious team, so we’ll keep working on that.”
Felipe Massa, previously a race winner in Barcelona, put in the donkey work for Ferrari, spending the day on the hard tyre doing yet more aero work. While it’s not uncommon to see cars on constant-speed runs festooned with pitot tubes and other sensors, the amount of data gathering Ferrari are still doing on their seventh day of testing seems to suggest Maranello are not entirely happy with their car.
Happier will be the Ferrari-engined Sauber team, for whom Kobayashi managed 99 uneventful laps. And after Nico Hulkenberg’s P1 yesterday, Paul di Resta got the considerably less glorious long-run duty for Force India today. At least the sun was shining.
1. Maldonado – Williams | 1m22.391s | 106laps
2. Schumacher – Mercedes | 1m23.384s | +0.993 | 127laps,
3. Kobayashi – Sauber | 1m23.582s | +1.191 | 99laps
4. Button McLaren – 1m23.918s | +1.527 | 114laps
5. Vergne – Toro Rosso | 1m24.433s | +2.042 | 78laps
6. Webber – Red Bull | 1m24.771s | +2.380 | 97laps
7. Massa – Ferrari | 1m24.771s | +2.380 | 84laps
8. Di Resta – Force India | 1m25.646s | +3.255 | 83laps
9. Glock – Marussia | 1m26.173s | +3.782 | 108laps
10. Petrov – Caterham | 1m26.448s | +4.057 | 70laps