Mark Webber made the most of today’s short dry spell to head the field on the first day of the final test in Barcelona, as Force India opted for Adrian Sutil to fill their second race seat.
Sutil, who has not raced since 2011, was re-appointed as Paul Di Resta’s team mate at midday following a lot of talk regarding the employment in recent days. The move means that Jules Bianchi is to stay in the Reserve Driver role, where he will also continue his work with Ferrari as part of their Ferrari Driver Academy. Di Resta was in the car today.
Elsewhere, for Webber and Red Bull today offered an opportunity to show their real pace for the first time in testing, topping the times for the first time this year. After spending the majority of the day on the intermediate and wet tyres, the final hour of the day allowed for dry running.
Webber completed a number of short runs on the medium tyre, putting himself over a second clear of the field at that point. And when those behind began to close, Webber used a set of the soft tyres in the dying minutes to end the day almost two seconds ahead of his closest challenger.
That spot was filled by Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes driver having another productive day in which he lapped more than anyone. Incidentally, he went quickest during the gloomy conditions of this morning, where a brief respite in the rain allowed for a stint on the intermediate tyre before heavy rain returned before midday.
After lunch and with the rain easing, Felipe Massa was first to switch to the medium tyre with just over an hour left of the day as he came to the end of a race simulation. Setting the timing screens alight with purple, he lowered the best time by over five seconds and prompted the rest of the field to follow suit. As expected the times fell quickly with many teams seeing it as a good opportunity to conduct some short runs on the medium tyre.
Massa, on his penultimate day of pre-season testing, completed the 112 laps during a productive day. However, his car came to halt in the final minutes of the day, most likely due to a shortage of fuel at the end of his race simulation. He eventually ended the day in eighth place as the rest of the field set out on slick runs.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the Ferrari will appear in definitive Melbourne specification on Saturday and Sunday.
Behind Webber and Hamilton in third was Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso. He set his time using the medium tyre on a single lap run, presumably on low fuel. He ended the day just ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez, who interestingly both use the super-soft compound today. They set their fastest times on these tyres, but were unable to challenge Webber at the top.
Lotus’ recent reliability woes continued with a hydraulics issue disrupting much of their afternoon. Romain Grosjean also beached the car in the gravel during the morning session, which resulted in the loss of an hour of running.
More bad weather is forecast for Friday. So Saturday and Sunday should be like a race weekend, with teams doing qualifying and race simulations with their Melbourne specification parts.
JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan commented: “RBR did a very competitive time, given the conditions – Webber did a 1:22.6. It is interesting to see that the Teams did a large number of laps in the difficult conditions (average 83 laps) and will have been studying the cross over times between the wet, intermediate and dry tyres for race data. It is also clear from photos that some teams were running aero rakes (devices for measuring wing behaviour and air flows), clearly hoping for the weather to break and turn dry, but had to block up the pressure taps in the wet to prevent them from being contaminated by water ingress.”
* For tonight’s BBC Radio 5 Live F1 season preview special I had a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, where Jenson Button and Sergio Perez’ new cars were being prepared for the start of the 2013 season.
I’ve been to all of the F1 factories and I’ve visited MTC many time before, but this was truly special as I got to go into some places that have always been “off limits” – such as the simulator and the Operations Room and the Wind tunnel. You can hear it all on the show which airs tonight on BBC Radio 5 Live at 7-30pm. It is not geo-locked so fans overseas can listen here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/5live/
Barcelona Test Day 1
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1min 22.693s 90 laps
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1min 24.348secs 113 laps
3. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1min 25.017secs 59 laps
4. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1min 26.458secs 85 laps
5. Sergio Perez McLaren 1min 26.538secs 100 laps
6. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1min 26,574secs 92 laps
7. Paul di Resta Force India 1min 27.107secs 57 laps
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1min 27.541secs 112 laps
9. Max Chilton Marussia 1min 28.166secs 78 laps
10. Charles Pic Caterham 1min 28.668secs 83 laps
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1min 34.928secs 52 laps