Federico Leo grows in confidence
The Formula Renault 3.5 Series drivers had to contend with mixed conditions for this second day of collective testing in Barcelona, with a wet track this morning but much drier conditions in the afternoon. The only thing that shone this morning was Brendon Hartley (Tech 1 Racing), who put in the quickest lap of a dank session, while Federico Leo (Pons Racing) was the one to turn heads in the afternoon, with a commendable 1'33''715. This makes the Italian driver the best performer over the two days, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo (Tech 1 Racing).
Friday morning saw the rain set in over the Catalunya track. Most of the drivers waited for a lull before heading out, so there were no traffic jams on the Barcelona track this morning. Greg Mansell (Comtec Racing) went to the top of the leaderboard, ahead of his teammate Stefano Coletti (Comtec Racing), the latter subsequently causing the first red flag of the day to be presented. This was the first of a sequence of interruptions through the morning.
The Carlin drivers took advantage of a few clear laps to take control of the session, with Jake Rosenzweig ahead of Mikhail Aleshin. The pecking order shuffled as the track started to dry. Nathanael Berthon (International Draco Racing) moved to the top of the timing chart with 1'56''430, then Mikhail Aleshin got back in the seat, lapping in 1'56''174.
The Russian led from Nathanael Berthon, Greg Mansell, Jake Rosenzweig and Sten Pentus (Fortec Motorsport), before another interruption when Jan Charouz (P1 Motorsport) span off. The Czech driver's car suffered pretty badly in the process, as did the safety barrier.
With track conditions improving, Brendon Hartley was able to make a successful challenge on the reference time. Lapping in 1'55''744, the New Zealander secured the fastest time of this rainy morning session, ahead of Greg Mansell, Mikhail Aleshin, Nathanael Berthon and Jake Rosenzweig.
By the start of the afternoon session, the sun was out and the track quickly improving. Nelson Panciatici (Junior Lotus Racing) was quick to underline the improved track conditions by chalking up a 1'49''747 right from the off. The French driver led the rest of the pack into action. It was Greg Mansell's turn next to fit slicks and turn on the speed, finishing a series of quickest laps in 1'38''705. Daniel Zampieri (Pons Racing) entered the fray, also going to the top of the timing screens, only to be overhauled by Jake Rosenzweig.
As fresh rubber came out, the last hour turned into a simulation of qualifying! Lap on lap, Greg Mansell, Stefano Coletti, Nathanael Berthon and Daniel Ricciardo took turns to up the pace. With a 1'33''734 lap, the Tech 1 Racing driver went one better than Nelson Panciaticci's day 1 best. Then Federico Leo (Pons Racing) reacted and grabbed the leadership in 1'33''715, as the session entered the last fifteen minutes. He led from Daniel Ricciaro and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Despite final onslaughts from all drivers, Federico Leo stayed ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, with Nathanael Berthon fighting back to finish in third place. The next collective testing session will take place next weekend in Jerez.
Federico Leo: "This result is a confidence builder. Already in end of season collective testing, last year, I was on the pace. It's the first time that I've taken part two years running in the same Championship, so I want to make it a success. It will difficult, because the level is extremely high this year."
Daniel Ricciardo: "There was a lot of traffic at the end of the session and I got stuck behind a driver who'd just made an error. But the main thing is we have worked really well during these two days. With 17 drivers all in the same second, we can tell we're going to have to perform exceptionally this season to be in with a chance."
Jack Rosenzweig: "It was a very good learning exercise to drive on the wet this morning. I'm familiar with the circuits this season, because I drove in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 in 2008; on the other hand, I need to learn the car and work on the pit-stops. It's a good thing for me to have Mikhail Aleshin as teammate, as he can give me a lot of precious info".