Nico Hulkenberg emerged as the man to beat on the second day of pre-season testing at Catalunya on a strong day for Force India in Spain.
The German set his benchmark time of 1min 22.608secs during the morning session after electing to take a run on the super soft Pirelli tyres, with his time being unbeaten throughout the afternoon as teams once again switched to a series of longer runs on track.
“We started the day with some aero work – trying some constant speed runs and collecting more data," Hulkenberg said. "Then, the rest of the day was spent working on the balance of the car and trying out all four tyre compounds. I did some short runs, long runs and just got a feel for the tyre characteristics and how the car reacts to them.
"Once again the car has been very drivable all day and our baseline set-up has proved to be a good starting point for running all the different compounds.”
A better day for Sergio Perez and Sauber ended with the Mexican driver posting the second quickest time, just 0.040secs behind Hulkenberg, while Sebastian Vettel was third for Red Bull.
Vettel had been the pacesetter early on during the day before the quick runs from Hulkenberg and Perez, but the defending champion was again in impressive form for Red Bull – spending the afternoon completing a series of long stints on track while also carrying out extensive pit stop practice.
“I think we are on the right road with the car,” the defending champion reflected. “The first impressions at the last test were fine. The car reacted the way we expected. I keep talking about the loss of downforce compared to last year, as we don't have the tools we had, but this is the same for everyone, not just us. So, we'll get on top of it and we'll spend the coming days trying to make improvements, find more performance and make the car faster. But so far, so good.”
Fernando Alonso was one of the few drivers to improve his time during the afternoon as he took fourth place for Ferrari, with the Spaniard moving ahead of the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo in the final half hour of running.
Ricciardo ended the day just over a second off the outright pace but was restricted to under 50 laps after losing time when his car stopped on the exit of the pits. It caused the second of two red flag stoppages, the first having also been caused by Ricciardo when he ran out of fuel on track.