Jenson Button defied early reliability problems with the latest McLaren to post the fastest lap of the opening day of 2013 pre-season testing at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit.
The Briton, who moves into the lead role at McLaren following the departure of Lewis Hamilton, had hoped to make a strong start to the important development phase of the season, but was sidelined after just a couple of exploratory laps, before he had even managed to set a time.
The fault was later confirmed in a newly-designed fuel pump, but replacing the errant part took the best part of the day, confining Button to just a late afternoon assault on the timesheets. Although he completed just 37 laps – compared to the session-high of 89 – the Briton still managed to post a time nearly a second faster than anyone else, clocking a 1min 18.861secs benchmark for the remaining three days.
Button spent the first part of the day's programme running a lower-lip rake to complete some aero mapping work. The end of the day saw the team evaluate the effects of a series of mechanical set-up changes, using both compounds of Pirelli tyres. Both the aero mapping and the balance changes fell in line with the team's pre-test expectations, and Button set his fastest time of the day on the hard compound rubber.
Times, of course, are all relative during pre-season testing, with the teams hoping more for reliability and the chance to put all-important miles on their new creations. While Button was at least able to finish the day, two of his rivals came up short in that department, with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg being forced to park up after just eleven laps when an electrical fire uncovered a problem that was not rectifiable on the day. Marussia rookie Max Chilton was also forced into an early bath, after running out of road during the afternoon session and damaging the MR02 – only unveiled that morning – in the gravel trap. The Briton, however, insisted that the incident was not down to him, citing a failure in the rear suspension.
"This afternoon's problem aside, I'm really happy with the start we have made to our 2013 campaign,” Chilton insisted, “With a new car, there is always the potential for something to crop up and cut short the programme but, for the morning period everything went according to plan, which is just the start we needed.
“I'm sure the team will get on top of the suspension issue very quickly so we can all pick up where we left off and start putting some more miles on what is obviously a very promising package."
Rosberg, too, was disappointed not to have got a full day's running under his belt before new team-mate Lewis Hamilton takes over behind the wheel of the W04 on Wednesday. The German completed just three runs before being stopped out on track, with unburnt fuel in the exhausts subsequently igniting to give the photographers a spectacular shot, but not causing any serious damage. Further investigation identified that the fault originated in a wiring loom, and Mercedes immediately set about making modifications for day two.
“At the start of winter testing, you often encounter small issues because the car you're running is a brand new design,” Rosberg reflected, “We had an electrical problem this morning and, once we had found the root cause, chose to modify the parts to make sure it didn't happen again. Of course, at this time of year, all you want to do is spend time in the car and get a feeling for how it's working, but these hiccups are just part of the game. During the laps I completed this morning, I had a good feeling with the car and it felt solid.”