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 Michael Schumacher took his upgraded Mercedes GP W02 to the top of the timesheets on Fridayunderway.

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 image 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.

Barrichello suffered from little drop-off in pace on his longer runs 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.

Ninth-quickest was Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen, who emerged from his revised T128 pretty pleased after racking up an impressive 138-lap tally for the day, with his fastest lap time coming off a short run.

McLaren finished the day second-slowest with Jenson Button at the wheel, after it also lost mileage with the need to perform an engine change. He finished behind fellow Mercedes-Benz runners Force India, which split its running between Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta, with the Scot running more laps and lapping fractionally quicker than his more experienced team-mate.

Not unpredictably, Jérôme d’Ambrosio brought up the rear in his Virgin Racing car, with the Belgian rookie covering some 46 laps and achieving a best lap over six seconds off the pace of Schumacher’s fastest for the day.

  Jenson Button
Button’s MP4-26 sported some new aerodynamic fins branching from the cockpit, but he seemingly wasn’t any quicker, finishing the day thirteenth. Meanwhile, Jérôme d’Ambrosio was slowest of all. 
Jerome d'Ambrosio

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:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes GP W02 1:21.249 67
2. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150° Italia + 0.365 141
3. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 0.539 22
4. Nick Heidfeld DEU Renault R31 + 0.824 67
5. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 + 0.984 89
6. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 1.066 98
7. Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 1.426 72
8. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 + 1.684 64
9. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 2.188 138
10. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.404 42
11. Adrian Sutil DEU Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 2.672 26
12. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Cosworth FW33 + 2.859 11
13. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 4.588 57
14. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 6.126 46

[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.