Another full day of running at Mugello saw F1 teams take their last opportunities of the 2012 season to test with their regular drivers. There will be a test for rookies later on in the year but this was the final opportunity for race drivers to run outside of official grand prix practice sessions. Unsurprisingly, everyone was eager to maximise their time on track. Yesterday’s sunshine was replaced by cloud and so, with slightly cooler track temperatures, many teams took the opportunity to run harder tyres – though the performance of many cars seemed unaffected by the change.
For the second day in a row, Romain Grosjean’s Lotus was the fastest car at Mugello, and again it was two-tenths quicker than Sebastian Vettel. “We were conducting a specific programme of evaluating components, so to be quick relative to our opposition even when we were not looking specifically to try to top the times is satisfying,” reflected the French-Swiss driver afterwards. “I’m happy at the progress we’ve made here in Italy and looking forward to seeing how well this translates into lap time when we get to Barcelona.”
Grosjean only managed 66 laps as his car went through a quite fundamental reconfiguration over an extended lunch break which chewed into a lot of time. Vettel, in comparison, had no such delays and managed 106 laps. “It’s been a useful couple of days and I’ve enjoyed the track a lot,” said Sebastian. “As usual we now have a lot of data to get through and that will take some time. We tried a few things and the results look encouraging; it’s always difficult to tell whether we improved and by how much, but we got some good laps and some good information.”
Third quickest was Fernando Alonso who took to the track with a Ferrari F2012 featuring a heavily revised rear end. Alonso was the fastest man on track early in proceedings but his progress came to a halt as he clattered the barriers. The damaged car came back to the garage on a low-loader and spent a couple of hours in the garage for repairs before Alonso could get underway again. “The feeling I have after the test is a positive one,” said Fernando in the evening. “We have introduced a few small – and I stress that word – aerodynamic updates, that have produced the response we were expecting and that is the most positive news, which means I am confident for the future, in the short and the long term. It means that what we see in the factory in Maranello has now also been confirmed on track."
Fourth quickest was Daniel Ricciardo for Toro Rosso, who managed a solid day of testing without interruption. “Overall, this has been a very productive test for us,” concluded chief engineer Laurent Mekies. “We managed to make up for the time lost through bad weather on Tuesday, so we have effectively had two and a half days of testing, during which we got through plenty of work, testing several new components, with both drivers completing a high mileage.”
“With new parts you always hope they will deliver a big improvement, but the reality is that we must now look at the data to see where we really are,” added Daniel. “Certainly, from the cockpit I was happy with the feeling I had from the car and I really enjoyed driving this beautiful circuit again.”
Fifth was Sergio Pérez for Sauber. There were rumours flying around suggesting the Swiss team were trialling a double-DRS akin to the one used by Mercedes but chief designer Matt Morris squashed the theory, saying the unusual bodywork merely housed sensors and that his team didn’t have the budget to invest in the system midway through the season.
Following Pérez was Nico Hülkenberg for Force India. The Silverstone-based outfit were the only team to share their seat today. Having got very little running over the first two days of the team they decided to continue with Paul di Resta (tenth fastest) in the morning before handing over to Hülkenberg in the afternoon.
Today, the gremlins were in the Williams garage, with Pastor Maldonado unable to do much work early in the day. “We had a disappointing start to this morning's session with an electrical problem that necessitated stripping the car, thus incurring a large loss in track time,” confirmed chief operations engineer Dr Mark Gillan. When the problem was fixed Maldonado was able to get out and run a modified programme of 63laps.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg has a busy day for Mercedes. While only eighth quickest, he racked up 129 laps for the Silver Arrows, equivalent to just over 670km. While some teams have questioned the logic of returning to this form of testing, Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was very positive about the advantages of doing so: “The first opportunity for in-season testing for some time has proved beneficial, particularly as it has enabled us to test some new development ideas and take a closer look at improving the car from things that we have identified over the first four races."
McLaren have expressed the opposite view this week, though they had a productive day with Oliver Turvey in the car, concentrating on testing various front wing and exhaust iterations. Behind him and di Resta on the time sheet was Heikki Kovalainen whose 139 laps gave the Finn comfortably the most mileage of the day. “I enjoyed myself out there – even though a lot of what we were doing was pretty repetitive, it's still a good place to drive an F1 car around and having got through everything we'd planned it's good to leave this test on a positive note,” said Heikki.
"We tried a variety of new parts and it felt like we may have found a couple of things that we can take to the next race. You can never tell just how much of an improvement something has been until you go through all the data, but the fact we've brought new parts that feel like a step forward is good.”
Bringing up the rear of the field was Timo Glock who managed 110 laps for Marussia, putting behind them the steering issues which blighted their running yesterday.
That’s it for testing, the real stuff starts again next week in Barcelona.
1 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:21.035 66 laps
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:21.267 106 laps
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:21.363 98 laps
4 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:21.604 117 laps
5 Sergio Pérez Sauber 1:22.229 118 laps
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:22.325 55 laps (car 89 laps)
7 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.497 63 laps
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:22.579 129 laps
9 Oliver Turvey McLaren 1:22.662 99 laps
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1:23.002 34 laps
11 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:23.169 139 laps
12 Timo Glock Marussia 1:23.466 110 laps
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