Fernando Alonso completed his first week in the new Ferrari F138 by topping the times on the third day of testing in Barcelona, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean.
Alonso – who is handing the car over to Felipe Massa tomorrow for the final day of the test – used today as a chance to show his team’s pace on the soft compound tyre, completing a number of single-lap runs during the morning session. His time today was within 1/10th of Sergio Perez’s time yesterday, and half a second quicker than Alonso managed in Q3 of qualifying last year.
Alonso traded fastest laps with Pastor Maldonado this morning as they both ran on the soft tyre but they were eventually split by Hulkenberg just before lunch, when he also completed a one lap run using the same tyre. Maldonado dropped down the times as he focused on a race simulation before handing the FW35 over to Valtteri Bottas this afternoon.
The biggest story of the day was always going to be Adrian Sutil’s comeback behind the wheel of a Force India. On his first day in F1 machinery since 2011, the German ended the day a second off Alonso’s ultimate pace. It was an important day for Sutil since he will be giving the car over to Jules Bianchi tomorrow before Force India make their decision on who will fill the teams second seat.
Hulkenberg gave Sauber a competitive day with his soft tyre run in the afternoon to put himself within 3/10ths of Alonso. From then the Swiss squad switched their attentions to long runs with a heavy fuel load.
Lotus had a much needed trouble-free day following their gearbox issues yesterday, with Grosjean completing the most laps of anyone and ending the day with a race simulation.
Nico Rosberg and Mercedes spent much of the morning gathering data without setting any competitive times, but later used a set of mediums to get within 7/10ths of the overall best. Interestingly, and as like Lewis Hamilton yesterday, it was set at the beginning of a seven lap run with a high fuel load relative to the one-lap runners.
It seems at this point, when comparing long runs on the same tyre, that Mercedes and Lotus are very closely matched. Rosberg looked to be running faster during their stints but Grosjean had a heavier fuel load as he completed his race simulation in the afternoon. When Grosjean came to the final stint of his race sim, and with a lower fuel load, his pace matched that of Rosberg earlier in the day.
That will be pleasing for Mercedes as the W04 has got to grips with this years Pirellis better than it has in the previous two years and they can compete with Lotus, who were particularly good at making their tyres last in 2012.
It has been frequently mentioned this week that the new tyres are degrading at a quicker rate than last year. However, as JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan hinted earlier in the week, Pirelli believes that the tyres are graining due to the cold track temperatures and believe that once they move to the warmer climates of the season, the tyres will be fine once in their operating range.
Finally, Mark Webber ended the day over a second off Alonso and in ninth place. He also completed a race simulation for Red Bull this afternoon.
Barcelona Test Day 4
1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.875s 97 Laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m22.160s +0.285 91
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m22.188s +0.313 119
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.611s +0.736 108
5. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m22.675s +0.800 79
6. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m22.826s +0.951 68
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m22.840s +0.965 71
8. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m22.877s +1.002 78
9. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m23.024s +1.149 108
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m23.366s +1.491 106
11. Max Chilton Marussia 1m25.690s +3.815 58
12. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m26.177s +4.302 83