A Formula 1 pre-season is not really considered to really get going in earnest until the schedule reaches the Circuit de Catalunya and so it was somewhat symbolic that Sebastian Vettel – the man that everyone is expecting to again have to beat in 2012 – set the pace on the first day of running at Barcelona today.
However, it was the early evening announcement by Lotus that the unusual problems with the second E20 chassis that had already curtailed its Tuesday running would now keep the team out of the rest of the test, that proved the real headline story of day one.
Romain Grosjean had initially completed seven laps in the new Lotus chassis this morning but thereafter wasn’t seen on track for the remainder of the day after the team found the chassis wasn’t behaving as it should. After initially announcing that the chassis would be returned to Enstone for further investigations and the original E20 chassis flown over to Spain overnight, the team released a press release just after 6pm revealing that modifications needed to be made to both chassis and they now wouldn’t be returning to action until the start of next week’s sessions at the circuit.
“Before we were due to fly chassis E20-01 out to Barcelona in replacement of chassis E20-02 – damaged this morning – we ran a series of simulations at the factory based on the data provided by our brief running on track today,” said technical director James Allison. “As a result, we were able to identify an area which requires some additional work. It will be more productive for us to carry out these modifications to both chassis at Enstone rather than send E20-01 out to this week’s test. We’ll put the right measures in place and we will be able to fix the problem before next week.”
So while Lotus’s preparations for the new season have been somewhat rocked, World Champions Red Bull can look back on another positive day for its RB8 on the track – which this time ended with Vettel on top of the times for the first time this winter.
After a morning tussle between the world champion, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timesheet, Vettel edged nearly two tenths of a second clear after a run on Pirelli’s harder tyre during the afternoon.
That time, a 1m23.265s, was 0.175s quicker than Hulkenberg and 0.325s quicker than Lewis Hamilton, who was the only one of the established top runners to complete more than 100 laps during the course of the day. For the majority of the afternoon the field switched to longer simulation runs, with Vettel’s improvement the only significant one of note in the day’s closing hours.
Fernando Alonso was within 0.9s for Ferrari, as was Michael Schumacher in the brand new W03. Having completed a private shakedown at the circuit over the weekend, Mercedes wasn’t therefore starting completely from scratch with the car and it ran reliably enough for the team to complete some morning set-up comparisons. A hydraulics problem later cut his day short with 51 laps gone but Schumacher was confident enough to suggest Mercedes has taken a much-needed step forward.
“My initial feelings with our new car are certainly good. I’m happy with the different evaluations that we have done over the last week, but obviously with the rule changes, we won’t know more until later,” he said. “It’s certainly an improvement and we have worked hard on the areas we had defined last year. Even though we had the hydraulic problem today, I’m pleased with all the mileage we have achieved so far with the new car.”
Sauber and Caterham were two other teams to lose track time; the latter’s problem proving more significant after the failure of a rear track rod caused Heikki Kovalainen to stop out on the circuit. Repairs did however allow the Finn to return in the final hour to move onto 31 laps.
BARCELONA TEST, Day One
1. Vettel Red Bull 1m23.265s 79 laps
2. Hulkenberg Force India 1m23.440s 97 laps
3. Hamilton McLaren 1m23.590s 114 laps
4. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.618s 76 laps
5. Alonso Ferrari 1m24.100s 75 laps
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.150s 51 laps
7. Perez Sauber 1m24.219s 66 laps
8. Senna Williams 1m25.711s 97 laps
9. Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.035s 31 laps
10. Grosjean Lotus 1m26.809s 7 laps
11. Pic Marussia 1m28.026s 121 laps