Barcelona Test: Vettel and Ferrari tops as Mercedes fumble
The usually faultless Mercedes experienced a rare blip Friday during an otherwise impressive eight days of preseason testing that showed the car’s outstanding reliability ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The incident was small enough not to cause any concern at Mercedes. It happened when Lewis Hamilton stalled the W07 car at the pit lane exit shortly before the end of the morning session.
While four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel clocked a leading time of 1:22.852 seconds in his smooth-running Ferrari, Hamilton’s car had a transmission problem and went back to the garage for further assessment.
That delayed teammate Nico Rosberg’s afternoon stint by a couple of hours, and Rosberg finished the day in the unusual position of having the slowest time — although he was running on medium tires and not testing out his speed.
Vettel’s mark stood for the rest of the day. Ferrari has shown good speed in testing and the German driver was 0.282 of a second quicker than Spanish driver Carlos Sainz, who underlined the reliability of the Toro Rosso car with 133 laps.
Brazilian Felipe Massa had the third best time for Williams ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez’s Force India and Hamilton, who did 69 laps — one less than Rosberg.
But Hamilton will doubtless feel frustrated that he did not get a chance to try out the new ultra-soft tires ahead of the March 20 GP in Melbourne.
Hamilton, who was on medium tires when the incident happened, had spoken enthusiastically on Thursday of testing out the ultra-softs and putting the car on a “knife edge.” He was not granted his wish.
Instead, the red flag ended his day and Hamilton was more than a second behind Vettel’s leading time on super-soft tires before handing over to Rosberg.
It was a good day for Ferrari, although Vettel did not read anything into the Mercedes mishap.
“There are potentially one million reasons why you could have a problem with the transition, from software issue to major hardware problem,” he said. “I’m not sure they’ll publish exactly what it was. The laps they have done the last two weeks, in terms of reliability they look very strong.”
It is also unrealistic to directly compare Ferrari and Mercedes for speed, considering Mercedes used medium tires for the entire testing program, whereas Ferrari was regularly trying out softer tires.
Like his teammate Kimi Raikkonen the day before, Vettel also did an installation lap with a prototype of the new head protection device fitted to his Ferrari SF16-H.
The sport is looking at ways of improving cockpit security to leave drivers less exposed to the risk of head injuries after French driver Jules Bianchi and British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson died last year.
The “halo” design works by forming a kind of semi-circular barrier around the driver’s head and is the concept most favored as it offers protection against flying debris without completely closing the cockpit.
Although Vettel thinks it needs improving, visibility does not seem to be a major concern.
“To go around it’s OK, you can see what you need to see. You can improve the aesthetics,” Vettel said. “In principle I agree it doesn’t look very nice. It’s not a picture we’re used to in Formula One. But it helps increasing the safety and saving lives.”
Rosberg also backed the decision to use the halo system.
Meanwhile, French driver Romain Grosjean, who is driving for American-led newcomer Haas, was relieved to have a stress-free day after stopping three times on Thursday because of braking issues.
“It felt much better, it was a good relief for everyone,” Grosjean said. “The guys worked hard, all night long to solve the issue.”
Grosjean handed over to teammate Esteban Gutierrez for the last hour, giving the Mexican driver some more lap time after he spent all day Wednesday stuck in the garage.
Barcelona Test 2, Day 4 – Best Lap Times
|2.||Carlos Sainz.||Toro Rosso||1:23.134||Ultrasoft||133|
|4.||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:23.721||Supersoft||60|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:24.427||Soft||123|