Maldonado on top at Circuit de Catalunya
23 February 2012 – Pastor Maldonado and Williams led the way as Formula 1 pre-season testing continued in Spain on Thursday. The Venezuelan, like the majority on-track today, was driving for the first time this week as Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi completed the top three for Mercedes and Sauber, respectively.
Although this week’s tradition of a cold morning was continued, the afternoon proved to be the warmest so far as the blue sky was joined by few clouds and ambient temperatures in excess of 21°C (70°F) to the delight of spectators who visited the circuit, despite the fact that Spain’s favourite Fernando Alonso had finished his programme on Wednesday.
It was an early start and early end for Red Bull; the pit crew was in action shortly after eight o’clock, practicing with Mercedes-style wheel nuts which are new for the World Champion team in 2012. However the day came to a premature finish when Mark Webber ground to a halt at Turn 8 with just under half an hour to go; it is likely that the stoppage was planned as teams continue to learn more regarding the range of their new contenders.
Webber’s parking was in fact the cause of red flag number four, with the first having flown when the engine cover flew off Paul di Resta’s Force India when travelling down the start/finish straight at 11:35am. Half an hour later, the circuit went silent for another brief period after Timo Glock spun the Marussia on what was his sole day of running this week. The lunch break came three minutes early when Kobayashi parked at Turn 4, likely to be for a fuel-out test. Ironically, the overall session also ended three minutes early when Felipe Massa’s Ferrari stopped in the pit lane exit.
The morning period brought problems for both Force India and Caterham; the former not only jettisoned the aforementioned engine cover but, previously, had lost a lengthy period of time when setup changes were made. In Caterham’s case, Vitaly Petrov saw his front suspension changed but still managed to notch up a total of 70 laps.
Schumacher, who circulated the most with 127 tours to his name, was the highest-placed runner on Pirelli’s Soft compound tyre, although Mercedes was not able to confirm the condition of the tyres or fuel load to GPUpdate.net. Atop the timesheet, Maldonado’s best effort of 1:22.391 came on the red-marked Super Softs, with third-placed Kobayashi putting in his time with a fresh set of Softs. Jenson Button had been in the top three, but was pushed down to fourth for McLaren ahead of Jean-Éric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.
After Fernando Alonso admitted on Wednesday that Ferrari are not in the position they had planned, team-mate Felipe Massa took over and set the seventh-fastest lap time, 2.3 seconds off Maldonado’s effort which is the fastest of the week so far.
With the results very much mixed due to various driver, tyre and temperature combinations, the general paddock feeling remains that Red Bull is the quickest for pure pace; however, in a dramatic development, word began to spread that the Milton Keynes team might not be testing tomorrow.
Red Bull and Ferrari alter testing days
This week's final action begins at 9am local time (GMT +1) on Friday; once again, the session can be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Test Report