Michael Schumacher has hustled his heavily upgraded Mercedes GP W02 around the Circuit de Catalunya quicker than anyone has managed to date in pre-season testing, as the curtain was penultimate day of testing before the 2011 F1 season officially gets underway.
The Brackley outfit continued the aggressive development of its 2011 challenger – the most noticeably being a heavily revised front wing – and with Schumacher’s team-mate Nico Rosberg also getting a run to go third-fastest, it was a hugely positive day all round.
Schumacher’s best lap came in a series of qualifying-style one-lap runs, and the seven-time World Champion managed to lap the Circuit de Catalunya over 0.3 seconds quicker than second-fastest Fernando Alonso, and some half-a-second quicker than Sergio Pérez had managed the day before.
There are an air of expectation in the Barcelona paddock, with this being the last time that all teams would be present together until the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, although Hispania Racing made it an academic point by electing not to run its newly-launched F111 challenger due to a shortage of available parts.
With rain forecast for tomorrow – with some teams staying on for a final day’s running on Saturday, having elected to miss a day earlier in this test period – a few teams took the opportunity to run both their drivers in the dry and sunny conditions that were on offer on Friday.
The conditions were ideal for spectators, with hot air balloons being launched nearby and plenty of drivers not scheduled to be in their respective cockpits taking in the action from around the circuit, with the likes of Vitaly Petrov, Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi watching the events unfold at the RACC Chicane.
At the sharp end of the timesheets, Alonso finished second-fastest with a mammoth tally of 141 laps that amounted to a full race weekend simulation – his best lap came during his qualifying simulation. During his race simulation in the afternoon, his effort was interrupted by a red flag brought out due to Kamui Kobayashi stopping on the circuit.
Most of the day’s quickest runners achieved their fastest lap times with qualifying-style runs, and Nick Heidfeld was no different as he finished fourth-fastest.
Fifth-fastest Rubens Barrichello shared his running with Williams team-mate Pastor Maldonado, but he earned particular interest for the lack of drop-off in his lap times on longer runs, which could imply that the Williams is gentler on its tyres than some of its rivals. Maldonado, by contrast, only managed eleven laps when his engine needed changing.
Kobayashi finished sixth-quickest ahead of the day’s other Spanish rider, Jaime Alguersuari, who took his Toro Rosso to seventh-fastest with a qualifying-style hot lap.
Down the order was Red Bull, who ran a low-key effort with Sebastian Vettel on their final day of pre-season testing. The defending World Champion spent much of his day lapping in the 1m22s-1m23s range on runs of five and six laps apiece, and generally avoiding the need to push for a quick lap time.
The final day’s testing is scheduled for Saturday, with five teams – McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes GP, Williams and HRT – scheduled to run before the entire field packs up and heads to Australia.
Final Barcelona Pre-Season Test (Day 4) Lap Times:
|1.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||1:21.249||67|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 0.365||141|
|3.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP W02||+ 0.539||22|
|4.||Nick Heidfeld||Renault R31||+ 0.824||67|
|5.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 0.984||89|
|6.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 1.066||98|
|7.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 1.426||72|
|8.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 1.684||64|
|9.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 2.188||138|
|10.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.404||42|
|11.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.672||26|
|12.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 2.859||11|
|13.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 4.588||57|
|14.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 6.126||46|