Mark Webber

Red Bull Racing’s title ambitions took another step forward with Mark Webber laying down the benchmark for the other teams by setting the quickest time on the opening day of testing. The Australian was a full second clear of his nearest challenger.

The final pre-season test is most likely to provide F1 fans with a clear form guide for the grid as the field sets of the season-opening Bahrain GP, due to start in just over two weeks’ time.

Webber’s best lap came during a stint of short runs during the morning; the Australian did not complete more than three laps in each stint, and would be likely to have been running on little more than petrol fumes each time.

The team switched its attention to race simulations in the afternoons running, but Webber was forced to pull off the circuit mid-programme when a gearbox oil level alert went off.

Webber’s best lap was 0.920s clear of the next-best placed Nico Hülkenberg, who managed to leapfrog his Williams ahead of Mercedes GP compatriot Nico Rosberg in his afternoon’s running.

Sauber’s encouraging pre-season form carried over to the Circuit de Catalunya, with Pedro de la Rosa ranked as the fourth-quickest driver at the day’s end. The team reported that it is yet to find a set-up that gives the C29 its best balance, but is confident that it will have sorted this come Bahrain.

Jenson Button – whose McLaren was quickest overall at last week’s Jerez test – was forced to settle for fifth on the opening day at Barcelona, but the team operated on longer runs almost exclusively, making the 1.9s gap to Webber not particularly surprising.

Force India’s promising VJM03 went sixth-quickest at the hands of Vitantonio Liuzzi, who was ranked quicker than Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. As with McLaren, the Scuderia was predominantly concentrating on longer race-type runs during its first day at the aerodynamically-demanding circuit. Fernando did lose two hours of running in the morning when an electrical issue reared its head.

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was delighted to finally have had some dry running, and his quickest time was barely slower than Alonso’s. The Russian also spent a lot of time working on pit stop practice, something he would have had limited experience with in the junior formulae.

The highest lap count of the day went to Toro Rosso, with local boy Jaime Alguersuari making his first F1 appearance at Catalunya.

Virgin Racing, on the other hand, can only dream about racking up that kind of mileage on a test day. Blighted by persistent hydraulics problems at Jerez last week, more disaster hit the team when Lucas di Grassi binned his VR-01 in the tyre barriers to curtail the team’s running for the day.

Slowest of all was Fairuz Fauzy in the Lotus, with the team racking up 76 laps by day’s end after an early hydraulic glitch had to be attended to.

Thursday’s testing times:

1. Mark Webber Red Bull Renault 1:21.487 (109 laps)
2. Nico Hülkenberg Williams Cosworth 1:22.407 (82)
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:22.514 (107)
4. Pedro de la Rosa Sauber Ferrari 1:23.144 (73)
5. Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 1:23.452 (101)
6. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India Mercedes 1:24.064 (65)
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.170 (74)
8. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:24.173 (74)
9. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:24.869 (111)
10. Luca di Grassi Virgin Racing Cosworth 1:27.057 (31)
11. Fairuz Fauzy Lotus Cosworth 1:28.002 (76)

[Image via ITV-F1]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.