Vettel quickest as Barcelona test begins
21 February 2012 – Sebastian Vettel put Red Bull on top as F1 testing continued in Barcelona on Tuesday. With a best effort of 1:23.265, the Champion led the way from ever-consistent Force India and Nico Hülkenberg, with Michael Schumacher sixth in the new Mercedes. Lotus’ day was shortened by a chassis problem.
It was a cold start in Montmeló when Mercedes launched its F1 W03, with ambient temperatures meeting figures of just 4°C (39°F); this increased to over 12°C (54°F) in the afternoon, although the track surface only saw double figures in the last hour.
To nobody’s great surprise, Caterham and Heikki Kovalainen were first out of the pit lane; however, the Finn was also first to cause a red flag as he stopped in an usual position just before the last corner, but after the pit lane entrance; the team confirmed to GPUpdate.net that this was due to a rear suspension issue. There was no further stoppage until ten to four, when Daniel Ricciardo parked the Toro Rosso at Turn 8; the exact cause is unknown and lost Ricciardo the 60 minutes of running time.
After the first hour, it was Sauber and Sergio Pérez leading the way, with Vettel first topping the timesheets 40 minutes later. Hülkenberg briefly stole the top spot after the first red flag, then trading the place with Ricciardo before Vettel rubberstamped his name on P1 ten minutes before the lunch break at one o’clock; the German’s eventual quickest time came in the final hour, with fuel loads remaining highly confidential.
Lewis Hamilton’s day ended amongst the top three runners, with Ricciardo and local favourite Fernando Alonso fourth and fifth as Schumacher’s best effort left him close to nine tenths off the top spot and in sixth position; in the paddock, Mercedes remains optimistic but insist that 2012 will bring ‘step-by-step’ improvements.
There were mixed moods at the bottom of the listings. Romain Grosjean barely managed two hours and seven laps as he continually complained of an ill-handling car; confirming the worries of the Franco-Swiss, the Enstone team diagnosed a major chassis problem and duly placed their E20 into retirement for the rest of the day. The plan is for Grosjean to drive again tomorrow with a tested chassis, with Kimi Räikkönen stepping in for Thursday and Friday.
It was a rather more positive affair for Charles Pic, who began Marussia’s 2012 running with the team’s 2011 car, the squad having admitted that it has fallen behind on its new machine. Despite setting the day’s slowest lap time, the Frenchman - fresh out of GP2 - recorded more laps than anybody, with a mammoth 121 to his name.
Barcelona testing continues at 9am local time (GMT +1) on Wednesday and can again be tracked live through the GPUpdate.net Live Test Report