Ferrari reserve driver Jules Bianchi was fastest on the first day of the 'Young Drivers' test at Magny Cours

Ferrari reserve driver Jules Bianchi has posted the fastest overall lap time in the first of the three-day ‘Young Drivers’ test at Magny Cours. The Frenchman led the way ahead of Force India’s Luiz Razia and Mercedes’ reserve driver Sam Bird.

This week’s test session is one of three ‘Young Driver’ test events to occur during 2012, after several teams were reluctant to incur the additional expense and stress on team members with another offshore test event at Abu Dhabi at the end of the season. Following three teams’ decisions to run at the first two-day test session at Silverstone earlier this year, Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India have elected to head to the circuit that hosted the French Grand Prix between 1991 and 2008.

This three-day test has also provided the three teams to trial a host of new development parts before they pack up and head off for the final seven flyaway rounds that remain. Mercedes’ upgrades put through their paces were the most apparent, with the W03 sporting Coanda-effect exhausts and major modifications to the double-DRS design it has pioneered since the start of the season.

Mercedes’ new exhaust design is similar to the Coanda configurations already being run by Sauber, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, with the concept design to help improve low-speed traction and tyre degradation – two areas where the W03 has struggled over much of the season.

After completing the baseline tests on its new exhausts, the team switched focus to further running its enhanced double-DRS design, which it had hoped to run in the washed-out Friday practice sessions at the Belgian Grand Prix. With more elements in place to help feed air to its rear wing, the feature will help ‘stall’ airflow over the wing to boost straight-line speed – a concept that will be particularly beneficial on circuits with long straights and medium-speed corners. Of benefit to Mercedes is that the Magny Cours circuit features a good mix of the latter…

Bird clocked up the highest tally of laps over the course of the day’s running, often being the only driver on track in the afternoon when the temperatures and wind began to pick up.

With Magny Cours holding a reputation as one of the most temperature-sensitive circuits when it comes to dictating performance, it was little surprise that the fastest lap times of the day came in the early and late hours of play. Bianchi led the way in the morning to post the fastest overall time of the day, with a lap time of 1:18.070 being a little over a second-and-a-half slower than the pole-winning effort mustered by Kimi Raikkonen at the 2008 French Grand Prix.

The session was largely devoid of major incidents, with only two red flag stoppages. One was brought about when Bianchi stopped his Cheateau d’Eau corner, while Luiz Razia had a spin in the Force India at the Imola chicane.

Circuit officials and the teams later agreed to extend the day’s running by a further hour to finish at 6pm local time, and it was in this final hour that Razia took advantage of the cooler conditions to move ahead of Bird on the timesheets.

The Brazilian will hand over controls on Wednesday to Bianchi – who gets behind the wheel of the VJM05 which he has been piloting in Friday practice sessions – while Bianchi’s Ferrari seat will be occupied by Davide Rigon. Bird will remain behind the wheel for Mercedes, and if he’s able to complete the team’s entire program, then former Red Bull development driver Brendon Hartley will assume driving duties on the final day’s running on Thursday.

2012 Magny Cours ‘Young Drivers’ Test Session – Day 1 Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Jules Bianchi FRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:18.070   87
2. Luiz Razia BRA Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:18.535 + 0.465 87
3. Sam Bird GBR Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:19.094 + 1.024 95

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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.