By Max Davies, F1 correspondent
- Webber was .366s faster than Button
- Ferrari sat out today's test
- Barcelona hosts final pre-season test
Red Bull Racing ended the first day of final Formula One winter testing at the head of the time sheets courtesy of Mark Webber. Lapping the Circuit de Catalunya track in 1m22.544s, the Australian's lap was faster than anyone had managed at last month's test at the same venue and was set on a qualifying-style single lap run this morning.
Sergio Perez had momentarily surprised by setting the fastest lap before his time of 1m21.176s was deleted for chicane-cutting. Concentrating more on slightly longer runs in the afternoon, Webber declared himself happy with the performance his RB7 had over separate stints of 10, 13 and 17 laps.
"It was a pretty good day and not much has changed since last week," Webber said. "We got some good laps in today. I think everybody is limited by tyres - we don't have unlimited sets of tyres these days, so the mileage is a bit controlled by how many you have at your disposal. But all in all, we had a good afternoon and got some good information."
Today I think we made some positive progress with MP4-26's balance.
Breaking with tradition, Jenson Button enjoyed a productive day, providing a much needed lift for McLaren. With a 1m22.910s lap, the 2009 world champion ended the day with the second fastest time. A planned race distance run early in the morning was abandoned when he was shown a pitboard which signaled a planned run of 50 further laps.
On the circuit though, the MP4-26 showed improvement from it's last outing at Barcelona - lapping just under 0.366s shy of Webber's best of the day. Earlier, the team caught the attention of the world's press by electing to run a bizarre nose, which housed an unsightly bubble on the top section. With some rivals seemingly perplexed that the team had possibly discovered some kind of innovative aerodynamic device, such rumors were quickly dispelled following McLaren's admission that the device was solely for the purposed of measuring development, and nothing else.
"The last couple of tests haven't been perfect for us, and I think that's partly due to us lacking set-up work," Button said. "But today I think we made some positive progress with MP4-26's balance.
"This morning, I did a number of short runs and, in the afternoon, we did some long runs, looked at set-up and balance, and spent the rest of the day looking at tyre consistency."
Lotus Renault took third and fifth positions, split by the Sauber of Perez, after Vitally Petrov took over from Nick Heidfeld. The latter was forced to call an early end to his day, suffering from a cold yet the German's lap of 1m24.735s was only just bettered by his team mate, the Russian ending the day with a best of 1m22.937s.
"We didn't do a massive number of laps this afternoon, but we managed to check the balance and did some set-up work ready for tomorrow," Petrov declared. "The new aero parts are another step forward and have given us some more downforce."
Heidfeld commented, "I have a cold at the moment so the team said I could try the car this morning and stop in the afternoon. The priority of the day was to assess some new aero parts. That's why we did a lot of in and out laps for the aero mapping. We are still analyzing the data, but the feeling was positive. Then, we used the rest of the morning to do a few starts, system checks and looked at some development items."
Sixth for Force India and completing only 38 laps, Scotland's Paul di Resta shared the day with the teams test driver Nico Hulkenberg who ended the day ninth - both men setting times of 1m25.039s and 1m26.030s respectively.
"All things considered, a good afternoon of running," di Resta confirmed. "We missed a bit of running after lunch as the guys fixed the problem from earlier in the day but when we did go out we got through a lot of productive work. It was my first time running the KERS system as we didn't run it last time in Barcelona, and all went well with that. Using the DRS [drag reduction system] and deploying KERS together takes some time to get used to but with time it will become a lot more natural."
AirAsia GP2 drivers Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia were given their opportunities to impress, driving for parent outfit Team Lotus. The first part of the day was covered by Valsecchi who posted the seventh best time of the day - a 1m25.406s, before going into the gravel and causing a red flag. Razia didn't do much better, posting a best of 1m26.723s then stopping out on the circuit, resulting in another red flag, this time with but a few seconds to go before the end of the day.
"I want to thank Team Lotus for the opportunity to drive the car today," Valsecchi said. "It was a great experience and one I want to build on with the team. To begin with it was obviously all new to me - new seat, more power, better brakes, the whole package, but by the end of the morning I was much more confident in the car and had the chance to push."
Razia declared, "It was really good to get back into an F1 car and pretty much from the first laps I could feel that this car is a step forward from what I have driven before. Despite the delay this afternoon while the car was being fixed I'm pleased with how I performed."
Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi caused the first red flag of the day and while the Swiss driver claimed eighth overall on a 1m26.004s lap, his car stopping to a halt on the main straight, only meant he could amass a total of 48 laps for the day.
Marussia Virgin driver Jerome D'Ambrosio closed the day with a best time of 1m32.060s and eleventh and last place. Focusing on a variety of assessment programmes, the team opted to ignore operating at a level of outright pace and although the Belgian completed 57 laps, he was repeatedly in and out of the pits throughout the day.
Ferrari, Mercedes, Williams and Hispania were not represented today, electing instead to commence their final test session tomorrow instead.