Vettel quickest for Red Bull on first day of Barcelona testing

Berthold Bouman, F1 correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Vettel fastest at first test day in Barcelona
  • Lotus’ Grosjean forced to quit testing
  • Excellent result for Nico Hulkenberg

Sebastian Vettel was fastest for Red Bull Racing during the first of four test days at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain today. On a cold but sunny track he put a time of 1m23.256s on the clock, 0.175s faster than the surprise number two of the day, Nico Hulkenberg for Force India. Lewis Hamilton was third fastest for McLaren, just 0.325s off Vettel’s fastest lap time.

The Spanish HRT outfit was not be present at Barcelona, as the team failed another FIA crash test and it is even not certain their new car will pass that crash test in time for the third and last pre-season testing session at Barcelona during the first week of March.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing

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Sergio Perez was the early pace-setter this morning and after an hour set a time of 1m27.039s. During the afternoon Sauber had to fix the rear anti-rollbar, and lost a lot of time in the garage. Perez was not entirely happy with his seventh place after completing 66 laps.

“It wasn’t an easy day for us. Nevertheless during the 66 laps we collected some very useful data, which we will analyze tonight, so in this regard it was still a satisfying day. I am very much looking forward to tomorrow and I hope we can get a lot more work done then.”

As the track was very cold most teams just cruised around the circuit for a few installation laps and the times were not really representative. Drivers were putting in slow laps to gather data and to make an analysis of the car setup. However, halfway the morning it was Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo who finally was the first to set a serious lap time of 1m25.247s, while Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap at the time was 1m31.811s.

But it didn’t take long before the McLaren driver was up to speed and took the fastest lap with a time of 1m24.585s, but he couldn’t enjoy his first place long as the 2010 and 2011 World Champion Sebastian Vettel was a fraction quicker and lapped the circuit in 1m24.343s.

First spin of the day was for Heikki Kovalainen who spun his Caterham at the final corner before the main straight, causing a red flag situation. Apparently Kovalainen’s spin was caused by a rear track rod problem. After the car had been retrieved Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India was the first to go below the 1m24s with a time of 1m23.712s, which he recorded on the new medium Pirellis.

Drama for Lotus and Grosjean
Drama for Lotus and Grosjean

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Drama for Lotus and Grosjean, as the team discovered there was a problem with the E20-02 chassis, Grosjean had to call it a day after completing only seven laps. The Frenchman felt there was something wrong with the car and returned to the garage, “We completed a few aero runs and then started timed runs, but I was very quickly aware that the car wasn’t responding as it should.”

Not a major issue according to Team Principal Eric Boullier, “This is a minor setback to our overall test programme. Fortunately we accumulated good mileage in Jerez. If this is the only issue we have during testing then we will still be well prepared for the start of the season.”

Bruno Senna in the Williams, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Schumacher all improved their own times towards the end of the morning, but could not get closer to Hulkenberg, who remained the fastest man of the morning. The German even improved his time to 1m23.440s, Hamilton was the second driver to make it into the 1m23s, but with a lap of 1m23.960s was still 0.520s slower than the Force India driver. A very strong Ricciardo soon split the duo with a second fastest time of 1m23.751s.

Schumacher fast in the new Mercedes MGP W03
Schumacher fast in the new Mercedes MGP W03

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Right in the spotlight was the new Mercedes car, after the team had officially launched their MGP W03 earlier this morning, it was time for Michael Schumacher to put the brand new car to the test. Straight from the photo shoot the W03 ventured onto the track and Schumacher immediately put a time of 1m25.024s on the clock. He made several runs until the lunch break and finished the morning in sixth position.

Schumacher was quite happy with the new car, “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.” And he optimistically added, “The aerodynamics figures look good so I'm not worried about the shape of the nose! Even though we had the hydraulic problem today, I'm pleased with all the mileage we have achieved so far with the new car."

Both Vettel and Hamilton had been dicing for the top positions, but it was Vettel who led the pack by noon, followed by Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Alonso, Schumacher, Perez, Senna, Romain Grosjean, Kovalainen and Charles Pic, who drove the 2011 Marussia to get some extra mileage under his belt. Both Grosjean and Kovalainen had car issues and had to stay in the garage for a long time and only lapped the circuit seven and nine times respectively.

After the lunch break the circuit remained quiet until after 45 minutes Hamilton, Ricciardo, Pic and Perez took to the track -- and they were soon followed by Alonso and Schumacher. This time no battle for the fasted time as all drivers completed their run to again gather data before they cruised back to the garage for a quick evaluation with their engineers.

Solid fourth place for Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo
Solid fourth place for Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo

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With teams now simulating race conditions as they stayed out for longer stints mainly on the hard and medium tyres, the order remained the same as in the morning. Vettel was still quickest, followed by a very strong Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Alonso and Schumacher who took sixth place with a car that came right out of the box.

Second red flag situation of the day was caused by Toro Rosso driver Ricciardo, who had stopped at Turn 8, the Australian was nevertheless happy with today’s result. “It was a good day with 76 laps under my belt. In the morning, apart from working on the overall development of the car, we were also getting ready for Melbourne, running through various procedures, working to a set time scale, as if it was a race weekend. That went well and in the afternoon, we did some race-type runs which were successful until the car stopped with just the final hour to go,” he commented.

We did some race-type runs which were successful until the car stopped

Daniel Ricciardo

His car was soon retrieved and the green flag was waved with just an hour to go. All except Ricciardo, Kovalainen and Grosjean, the latter two had been side-lined since the morning, took to the track again to resume the long stints. Again no race for the fastest lap, teams were now seriously testing their cars and tyres under race conditions, and rookie Pic also got a few lessons on how to make a Formula One pit stop.

Pic said about his first day in Barcelona, “We made a lot of pit stops this morning and practiced all the procedures, which was very helpful for me, and this afternoon we completed a race simulation. I learned a lot from the day and I’m looking forward to running again tomorrow.”

Caterham had managed to fix the track rod problem and Kovalainen was finally able to resume his testing duties, the Finn had so far only completed nine laps and had to make up for lost time. On his first outing he managed to squeeze out a lap of 1m27.739s, just 0.202s slower than his fastest time this morning.

Early spin for Kovalainen and only 31 laps completed today
Early spin for Kovalainen and only 31 laps completed today

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Kovalainen later stated, “That obviously wasn't how we wanted day one here to go, but that's what testing is for - pushing everything to the limit to make sure we get rid of the problems before we get to the first race.” But it wasn’t a lost day he said, “It's hard to learn a lot from limited laps, but I'm back in the car on Friday and I'm sure we'll be able to push on with the program between now and then and make sure we get as much as we can out of the next three days on track.”

With the top four just separated by 0.353 of a second, the big question was of course whether there would be a final shoot-out for the fastest lap of the day. Vettel, Hulkenberg and Hamilton soon came out, but not for a quick lap, all three took it relatively easy and with just ten minutes to go there was still no sign of a possible shoot out for the top three positions.

But no shoot-out today, the top three remained the same. Vettel took the first position again and he commented, ““It’s clear that the cars have less grip than last year, but we try to come back from that slowly. It’s difficult to judge where we are compared with the others right now. It’s all based on feeling and the feeling I have inside the car at the moment is fine.”

It was a productive day he said, “I think we had a good day today, with no trouble. We had a long lunch break when we made some changes, but not because anything broke down. All in all, it was a good day.”

The star of the day was without a doubt Nico Hulkenberg, who took second place. “Once gain it’s good to do so many laps and I’m pleased with how things went today,” the Force India driver said. “ It was only my second day in the car and I’m still bedding in and getting used to things, but after each run I felt a bit more comfortable. We started with some aero runs and more data gathering this morning, and then moved to longer runs in the afternoon. The car feels consistent and the drivability is good so I feel positive heading into tomorrow.”

Barcelona test day 1 results

Pos Name Team Time Difference Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:23.265 - 79 Laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:23.440 + 0.175 97 Laps
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:23.590 + 0.325 114 Laps
4. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:23.618 + 0.353 76 Laps
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.100 + 0.835 75 Laps
6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:24.150 + 0.885 51 Laps
7. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:24.219 + 0.954 66 Laps
8. Bruno Senna Williams 1:25.711 + 2.446 97 Laps
9. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:26.035 + 2.770 31 Laps
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1: 26.809s + 3.544 7 Laps
11. Charles Pic Marussia * 1:28.026 + 4.761 121 Laps

* 2011 car

All times unofficial

Also see: Photo gallery of Barcelona testing day 1

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Heikki Kovalainen , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Nico Hulkenberg , Sergio Perez , Romain Grosjean , Daniel Ricciardo , Charles Pic
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams
Tags barcelona, bouman, featured, hamilton, hulkenberg, vettel