The penultimate day of testing at Barcelona was affected by rain, which fell during the morning and again in the early afternoon, forcing some teams to change their plans for the day and focus on what they most needed to achieve in the limited running time. The track temperature was ten degrees colder than the day before, which also affects the way the tyres work.
For several drivers, like Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button, it was the last day of testing.
Getting the tyres warmed up for a single lap is something Button needs to get absolutely right if he is to challenge Lewis Hamilton and others this season. He did a couple of short runs at the end of the day, which he said were on low fuel, but they were a second slower than the Mercedes, so the fuel loads cannot have been comparable. So we have yet to see the outright pace of the McLaren.
Rosberg set the fastest time of the day a 1m 20.686, but if you look carefully you see that this not a representative time either, the Mercedes was actually faster than that. On his hot lap, the second lap on a three lap run, Rosberg set his fastest time in only the second sector, the lap before was 2/10ths quicker in Sector 1 and on a later lap he was two tenths quicker in Sector 3, so in fact the Mercedes’ ideal fastest lap yesterday was a 1m 20.2, which is pretty quick.
This caused Michael Schumacher to revise his rather gloomy prediction about the first race and say that in fact the car was in better shape to challenge than he had thought. Rosberg has already said that the team has another significant upgrade package for Bahrain, more significant than the update they brought to Barcelona. Schumacher will drive today and all eyes will be on his outright fast lap, as they will with Hamilton. Will the front running teams show their hand today and go for maximum performance or will they carry an extra 10kg of fuel to mask true speed?
Button seemed happy with the new parts he had tested on the McLaren, including new floor and top body, but as always, was left wanting more time. “Out of the box, with a new package, to be as consistent as we are and the pace we have, I am happy,” he said. “I don’t think we are at our maximum yet, but we will do our best tomorrow (with Hamilton driving) to get the maximum out of the car. I think it is just more time with this car – with this update on the car.”
For Toro Rosso, Buemi did a race simulation and set the second fastest time of the day on the fourth lap of a six lap run in the morning. It is hard to judge the long run pace because of the changing track conditions, but Buemi found it a useful exercise, “It was particularly interesting to see how the tyre behaviour changed depending on the fuel load. In the races, it will be important to drive smoothly, as on full tanks it is very easy to damage the tyres if you slide too much,” he said.
Meanwhile Ferrari worked mainly on long runs yesterday. Massa did a race simulation and the first stint was a marathon 53 laps! The lap times were very consistent, in the 1m 26s mainly. When he pitted he was immediately four seconds a lap faster than before, lapping in the low 1m 22s, showing what a new set of tyres is worth. Interestingly the Ferrari’s lap times didn’t really come down much in that long first stint as the fuel burned off.
Today, when it is expected to be dry, it will be interesting to see whether Massa does a really hot lap, possibly in the high 1m 19s or whether Ferrari keep their powder dry for Bahrain.
Red Bull only managed 51 laps on Saturday, with a “planned rebuild” taking much of the morning. It wasn’t until 3pm that Vettel went out to do some meaningful lap times. Today, unusually, the team is sharing the driving duties between Vettel and Mark Webber, to give both a final read on the car before Bahrain. This must mean that there are some significant upgrades which they want both drivers to evaluate.
While the established teams are working on performance, new teams Lotus and Virgin are both still chasing reliability. Lotus managed 102 laps yesterday with Jarno Trulli, bringing the total for the team this week to 248 laps, which is 1,153 kilometres. Virgin lost time with gearbox issues, a control system problem and then a fuel seal problem. The have only managed 114 laps over three days, well under half Lotus’ mileage. Lotus’ long run pace in the afternoon was in the 1m 30s range.
Headline Lap Times – Barcelona Day 3
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:20.686 128
2. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:21.413 106
3. Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 1:21.450 105
4. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1:21.975 101
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:22.344 115
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:22.523 68
7. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:22.606 61
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:23.123 51
9. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1:25.059 102
10. Kamui Kobayashi BMW Sauber 1:26.216 105
11. Timo Glock Virgin Racing 1:26.305 31