By: Max Davies - F1 Correspondent
- Schumacher sets fasted time
- Frustrating day for Button
- Tomorrow final testing day
Enjoying a productive demonstration of his new upgrade package, Michael Schumacher was quickest on the penultimate day of winter testing for Mercedes at the Circuit de Catalunya. Lapping the Spanish circuit in 1m21.249s this morning, during a set of qualifying-style one-lap runs, the German declared himself satisfied with the progress made since the car’s launch in February.
“We have been developing the car step-by-step this week with new parts arriving each day,” he said. “So our focus today has been on understanding how to get the best from the car now that it is pretty much in its final configuration for the first time. The car has behaved as we expected and it’s been a very productive day. We completed our programme and I should also be able to get some experience of the expected wet conditions tomorrow,” the German explained.
With rain forecast throughout tomorrow and Mercedes being one of the few teams to remain at the venue to test on the last day, Nico Rosberg was also given the opportunity to run some laps for the last section of the day, the German covering a mere 19 laps to Schumacher’s 67 but took third with a best effort of 1m21.788s.
In another display of supreme reliability, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari completed 141 laps on his way to second place with a quickest effort of 1m21.614s. The double world champions’ lap was set in the morning, amid a qualifying, low-fuel style run. The team then shifted its focus onto a race distance in the afternoon but that was interrupted after Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber stopped on the track.
Fourth for Renault, Nick Heidfeld’s 1m22.073s lap was also set on a short-fuel run before undertaking a race distance which was hindered via a long visit to the garage to rectify a few problems with the car.
“For our final day in Barcelona we started by working on car balance to be ready for Melbourne,” the German confirmed. “The set-up work was useful and taught us quite a few things. We would have liked to do more laps and I was hoping to do a race distance later in the day, but the problems with the gearbox after lunch meant we spent a bit too much time in the garage. However, we managed to get out for the final hour and did some running on heavy fuel.”
More impressive than his qualifying-spec run – netting him fifth fastest with a 1m22.233s lap - Rubens Barrichello’s long run pace was of immense interest. The Williams driver ran several 10-12 lap stints with his times only differing by around a second throughout and thus displaying a low level of tyre degradation, not really witnessed so far this winter.
With his team mate completing 89 laps, Pastor Malonado was unable to get the running he expected following an engine change. The Venezuelan could only compile a total of 111 laps for the day.
Kobayashi’s lap of 1m22.315s was good enough for the Sauber driver to finish ahead off Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso and Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen, who set a lap time of 1m22.933s and 1m23.437s respectively.
Defending champion Red Bull Racing spent their final day of running in a low-key manner, Sebastian Vettel completing only 64 laps and a fastest lap of 1m22.933s, over 1.5s slower than the quickest of the day. Spending most of his on track time focusing on runs off between 5-6 laps, he eventually caused the final red flag of the day after his RB7 machine stopped at the pit exit.
Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil took it in turns to continue Force India’s development programme and ended the day in tenth and eleventh positions with best efforts of 1m23.653s and 1m23.921s each, completing 66 laps in total for the team.
Another frustrating day for McLaren saw Jenson Button cover only 57 laps after an engine change. His best time of 1m25.837s was over 4.5s off the pace and was set on a low-fuel but not qualifying-spec run. The 2009 world champion was disappointed to have not covered more mileage but stressed that his thoughts were with the victims of Japan’s devastating earthquake, which hit earlier in the day.
“As today was my final day of testing, it was disappointing not to be able to put more mileage on the car,” he said. But I think we learnt some positive things: today was never about pace, as we weren’t running lower fuel-loads, but there is pace in the car – it’s just been masked by reliability issues.
Right now, my thoughts go out to everybody in Japan
“Now, I’m looking forward to Melbourne: you can’t under-estimate a team as determined as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes: we’re all pulling together and we’ve got some interesting developments in the pipeline.
“Finally, I just want to add that today’s events at the track are really put in their perspective by the terrible tragedy in Japan. Right now, my thoughts go out to everybody in Japan, particularly in the worst affected area of Sendai. My heart is with them.”
As usual, Marussia Virgin propped up the timesheets with Jerome D’Ambrosio setting a best time of 11m27.375s and a total of 46 laps for the day.
All 12 teams were present in Barcelona – with Hispania unveiling their latest challenger to the world during the lunch break. Unfortunately, anticipated parts were delayed in Spanish customs so the team failed to make it out of the pits.
Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Hispania are all due to run on the final day off winter testing while for the rest, it is time to head back to base and get ready for Melbourne.