Jules Bianchi nothced up a hat-trick of fastest times at the Magny-Cours young drivers’ test as he returned to the Ferrari cockpit for Thursday’s final day.
Having had a unique chance to directly compare the Ferrari F2012 and Force India VJM05 over the course of the first two days, Bianchi was back in the former’s title-chasing challenger on day three and wrapped up an encouraging week for both himself and Ferrari mileage-wise with 138 more laps to bring his personal test total to over 300.
The 23-year-old was able to top the century again despite rain hitting the former French GP circuit in the morning, meaning the three drivers present completed their early ventures on the circuit on intermediate and wet tyres. The skies over Magny-Cours gradually improved thereafter into the early afternoon and Bianchi came under slightly more pressure for the fastest time than hitherto in the week with Force India debutant Rodolfo Gonzalez hitting the top of the timesheet mid-way through the second session with what turned out to be his best lap of the day, 1m18.018s.
Bianchi, however, reasserted his dominance with a later superior lap of 1m16.985, which although the best lap set in a Ferrari this week, fell over 0.4s short of his overall quickest effort of the week set on day two in the Force India.
Gonzalez, whose Force India team packed up earlier than either of their fellow two teams, therefore finished second on the timesheet and the Venezuelan was pleased with his 348km-worth of mileage.
“Today has been a great experience. The conditions were quite difficult to begin with because of the wet start to the day, but it was good to try out the wet and intermediate tyres,” he said. “The other main task was getting used to the control systems and building my speed and feel for the car. I’m quite happy with my pace today, although I think there was more to come because it was my first time driving at Magny-Cours and my first time in the car. The team did a great job of making me feel welcome and comfortable, and I really hope to get another chance to drive a Formula One car soon. ”
The third man in the field, former Red Bull-backed junior Brendon Hartley, has had previous F1 test experience in 2008-2009 and once the rain had cleared he was able to complete some long hard-tyre runs in the upgraded Mercedes, clocking a best time of 1:18.671 after 87 laps. Aside from giving two young drivers vital F1 track time, the test has been particularly key for Mercedes which has tried a new exhaust and Lotus-style double DRS, and team chief Ross Brawn said the team now had plenty of data to analyse ahead of Singapore.
“This was an important test, allowing both drivers [Hartley and Sam Bird] some important track time in a Formula One car, and enabling us to continue our development programme with the evaluation of our new upgrades,” Brawn said.
“Both Sam and Brendon have driven very well, providing good and consistent feedback, and I would like to thank them for their efforts and diligence over the last three days.
“We now have a wealth of data from the test to study back at the factory over the next few days and in advance of the forthcoming race in Singapore.”
The remaining six teams who have yet to complete their permitted days of young driver testing – Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Caterham – will, as has traditionally become the case, now use the days after the Abu Dhabi GP in November to give their respective young drivers a run-out around Yas Marina.
Marussia already completed their young guns running at Silverstone in July by today confirmed the identity of one of the drivers who will get track time in the corresponding sessions in 2013, Cypriot Tio Ellinas to be rewarded for finishing the GP3 season as the highest-ranked Marussia Manor Racing driver. The 20-year-old finished eighth in the championship but capped his debut season at that level in fine style by finishing second and then first in the final races at Monza last weekend.
YOUNG GUNS TEST, Magny-Cours – Day three
1. Jules Bianchi Ferrari 1m16.985s 138 laps
2. Rodolfo Gonzalez Force India 1m18.018s 79
3. Brendon Hartley Mercedes 1m18.671s 87