Mark Webber has fired a warning salvo to the rest of the 2011 field by setting the Mark Webberfastest time on the first day of the final pre-season test a Barcelona, with a lap time quicker than anyone managed in the last four-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya. McLaren’s Jenson Button and Renault’s Vitaly Petrov completed the top-three on the timesheets.

Webber’s hot lap, a 1:22.544, came on a qualifying-style single-lap run in the morning. On longer five-lap stints, he was lapping in the 1m23s range, before he switched to longer runs of up to 17 laps that started in the 1m27s before dropping to as slow as 1m32s.

The final few minutes saw Sauber’s Sergio Pérez vault to the top of the timesheets with a shock lap time of 1:21.176 with a final sector time some two seconds quicker than anyone else. It turned out that the Mexican had actually missed the final chicane, resulting in his time being deleted from the records. He wound up fourth overall at the end of the day, in a session largely spent on shorter runs that was briefly interrupted by an oil leak.

Sergio Perez   Davide Valsecchi   
Sergio Pérez’ fastest time of the day was disallowed for cutting the final chicane, while GP2 sign-up Davide Valsecchi got to sample the Lotus T128, before ending his day in the gravel with a high-speed spin.

Conditions were cloudy and cool, forcing many teams’ test scheduled to be altered. Lotus Racing was one such outfit to keep Jarno Trulli sidelined, in favour of blooding its Team AirAsia GP2 recruits, Italy’s Davide Valsecchi and Brazil’s Luiz Razia. Valsecchi enjoyed the morning’s driving duties until he beached the T128 in the gravel, while Razia ran in the afternoon and caused the day’s final red flag with minutes to run when he stopped on track.

But it was the rain that fell mainly on the plains of Montmeló this morning, just half an hour before the circuit opened for business at 9:00am local time.

No doubt four teams missing in action today – Ferrari, Mercedes GP, Williams and Hispania Racing, who are swapping the Wednesday for a separate test day on Saturday – might be hoping that the rain stays away for the remainder of the week. McLaren also announced that it would miss the second day’s running in favour of testing time on Saturday.

A host of technical innovations are expected to be run over the five days of running, and the teams didn’t disappoint, and certainly least of all McLaren. The team ran a curious ‘bubble nose’ structure, which was actually a measuring device being used to assist with future developments to its front wing, rather than a technical innovation. It has since been revealed that the sporting regulations would not allow the part to be used during a race weekend, which will fortunately render the item from scarring the McLaren's 'bubble nose' turned many headseyes of too many fans who will flock to the Grands Prix this year!

Irrespective of the device’s virtues or vices, Button lifted spirits in the Woking team by winding up second-quickest at the end of the day, lapping in the high 1m22s range during qualifying-style runs, with subsequent six- and seven-lap stints (presumably on harder tyres) showing pace in the 1m29s range.

Petrov took Renault to third-fastest after taking over driving duties from the cold-stricken Nick Heidfeld (fifth-quickest), with the Russian moving up the timesheets in the Nico Hulkenbergfinal ten minutes of the day.

Another team to split its running between two drivers was Force India, with Nico Hülkenberg (pictured) getting his first taste of the team’s new VJM04 before he handed over, as scheduled, to Paul di Resta for the afternoon. Di Resta finished up sixth-fastest, while Hülkenberg was ninth-quickest.

Bucking their usual trend, Toro Rosso remained lower on the timesheets than usual, although much of this could be explained by Sébastien Buemi losing several hours of running when his STR6 ground to a halt on the pits straight, bringing out the first red flag of the day.

Slowest of all was Virgin Racing’s Jérôme d’Ambrosio, who looks set to be doing all of the team’s running while Timo Glock recovers from his appendectomy at his home in Switzerland. Judging by the Twitter conversations between Glock and the team, he certainly was very bored being cast on the sidelines, but d’Ambrosio’s time was spent concentrating on a variety of assessments rather than concentrating on posting competitive lap times.


Final Barcelona Pre-Season Test (Day 1) Lap Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault RB7 1:22.544 97
2. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 0.366 74
3. Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault R31 + 0.393 27
4. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C30 + 1.573 90
5. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 2.191 20
6. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.495 38
7. Davide Valsecchi ITA Lotus Renault T128 + 2.862 50
8. Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 3.460 48
9. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 3.486 31
10. Luiz Razia BRZ Lotus Renault T128 + 4.179 29
11. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 9.516 57

[Original images via GP Update, LAT and Sutton Images]

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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.