Nico Rosberg has taken Mercedes AMG to the top of the timesheets once again – admittedly in an older-spec car equipped with the now-banned blown-exhaust diffuser – by posting the fastest session time in the third day of pre-season testing at the Jerez Grand Prix circuit. Fastest in the 2012 cars was Romain Grosjean in the Lotus.
A host of drivers had their first outings in their new cars, with frontrunners Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and crowd-puller Fernando Alonso getting behind the wheel of their respective challengers, while F1 rookie Jean-Éric Vergne also had his first outing for Toro Rosso, along with Bruno Senna in the Williams.
The field was reduced overnight as HRT packed up and went home to finalise the assembly of its 2012 challenger, but the team’s hopes of having its new car ready for the next test at Barcelona took a major when it was revealed that its F112 chassis had marginally failed two of the FIA’s mandatory sixteen crash tests. Under the newly-implemented rules, the teams are not allowed to run their new cars in pre-season testing unless they have passed the crash test.
Conditions were freezing when the track opened for business at 9am local time, with the mercury sitting at 0°C (32°F), conditions that the 2012 Pirelli dry-weather tyres are simply not designed to cope with.
The only tyre that could remotely cope with the conditions was Pirelli’s softer rubber, so there were a few quizzical expressions when Force India’s new test driver Jules Bianchi took to the track with the medium-compound Pirelli’s bolted on to his VJM05.
The Frenchman was set to hand over the car to Nico Hülkenberg for the afternoon, but his German would be denied crucial first-day mileage when Bianchi promptly stuck his car in the barriers. With the team not having enough spare parts at its disposal, their hopes of further running were finished by 10am.
Bianchi’s crash aside, the day saw just two more red flag interruptions. Caterham’s new test driver Giedo van der Garde had a minor spin just after 3:30pm, while Grosjean ground to a halt in the dying minutes as Lotus simulated a ‘run dry’.
Behind Rosberg and Grosjean, defending World Champion Vettel was third-fastest in his first outing in Red Bull’s RB8 contender, finishing just one-tenth of a second slower than the best set time set by team-mate Mark Webber over his two days of running.
Two-tenths slower than Vettel and fourth-quickest for the day was Lewis Hamilton, who completed 80 laps running on his first day in the McLaren MP4-27. Next quickest were STR rookie Jean-Éric Vergne – also on his first outing – and Sergio Pérez in the Sauber.
While Fernando Alonso managed to pull larger crowds to-date, he was seemingly mired on the timesheets as concerns over Ferrari’s F2012 challenger continued to mount. As always, how much this is due to actual worries over the car as opposed to a bit of brinkmanship on the team’s part is simply a guessing game, but the Spaniard complete 65 laps for the day and finished up 2.8 seconds off the leading pace.
Slowest of the day’s regular runners was Bruno Senna on his first outing with Williams. The Brazilian clocked up the most mileage for the day, completing the equivalent of nearly two race distances in the Renault-powered FW34.
The final session times were as follows:
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 Team W02*||1:17.613||118|
|2.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus Renault E20||+ 0.806||117|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||+ 1.684||96|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||+ 1.851||80|
|5.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||+ 2.121||79|
|6.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||+ 2.157||48|
|7.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||+ 2.799||67|
|8.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||+ 3.680||125|
|9.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT01||+ 2.957||139|
|10.||Jules Bianchi||Force India Mercedes VJM05||no time||2|
* Denotes 2011 car