Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time seen in Barcelona to date this winter to lead the way on the penultimate day of F1testing at Catalunya.
The Mercedes man was in imperious form on a busy day for teams who made the most of vastly improved weather to put plenty of miles on their respective cars with track time running out before the season opener in Australia.
Hamilton posted his best time during the morning session while running on Pirelli's soft tyre, putting him more than a second clear of anyone with a best of 1min 20.588secs.
Also lapping quickly on the medium compound rubber, Hamilton would remain out front for the rest of the day with no-one else able to dip below the 1min 21secs marker during the course of the afternoon.
Felipe Massa would emerge as Hamilton's closest challenge on the timesheets for Ferrari, although the day didn't pass without incident for the Brazilian after he lost his front left wheel on the back straight during the final half hour of running; bringing out the red flags and leading to questions in the Ferrari garage about the cause of the incident.
Behind Massa, Adrian Sutil was third fastest for Force India having been Hamilton's closest challenger during the morning. The German was amongst the drivers to switch to a series of longer runs during the afternoon as the team worked on a race simulation, with Williams pair Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas following behind.
Maldonado started the day at the wheel of the FW35 although the late delivery of new parts needed for the car meant he was late starting his programme, although both drivers had the opportunity to sample revised bodywork for the first time ahead of a more performance-related programme on Sunday.
“We brought our updated core bodywork for the first race here this weekend,” technical director Mike Coughlan said. “Pastor spent the morning doing system checks with it before Valtteri went through new sets of each compound tyre this afternoon. Tomorrow we aim to do more performance runs with some further upgrades ahead of Australia.”
Esteban Gutierrez was sixth quickest for Sauber with Mark Webber seventh for Red Bull, although the defending champions failed to show their hand on what was Webber's final day of running prior to Melbourne, with the 36-year-old spending much of the day running on the harder compound tyres and carrying out aerodynamic development work.
Sergio Perez was eighth for McLaren ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso, while Romain Grosjean was tenth for Lotus having flown back to the circuit from France to extend his test into a third day after Kimi Raikkonen was ruled out of action with suspected food poisoning.
Grosjean was only at the wheel of the E21 during the afternoon with test driver Davide Valsecchi getting his first run in the car during the morning, although the GP2 title winner was restricted to just 16 laps having caused one of two stoppages prior to lunch when he stopped on track.
Lotus hopes to have Raikkonen back in action on Sunday, with Grosjean on standby to continue behind the wheel if the Finn still feels unwell.
“I certainly didn't expect to be in the E21 again today so it was an interruption to a day off, but as interruptions go it was a pretty good one!' Grosjean said. "The weather was definitely an improvement from what I've experienced so far and I was able to assess the new rear front wings; both of which feel improved over the initial versions.
"We ran with high fuel today so it wasn't about lap times in the afternoon, but it's all valuable data we're getting for the car. I hope that Kimi is feeling better for tomorrow, but I don't mind driving again if I have to.”
Jules Bianchi posted Marussia's quickest time to date as he had his first chance to drive the MR02 after being named as Luiz Razia's replacement on Friday evening, while Giedo van der Garde was the busiest man on track as he concluded his pre-season running for Caterham, although he ended the day two-tenths of a second behind Bianchi on the time sheets.
“For my final day of testing it's really good to put 126 laps on the board,” the Dutchman, who caused a brief stoppage during the morning when he came to a halt on track, said. “We took full advantage of the weather today, running through the final tyre and setup evaluations this morning and then running a full race simulation after lunch. We only had one minor issue with the car this morning, but apart from that it ran well all day and it was good to get a full race distance done, both for me and the whole team.
“Even with the amount of laps we got through I feel really good. I've worked hard all winter to prepare for the season and today was a good test for how I feel physically and mentally, so it's good to finish off the tests feeling prepared for the race season to start.”
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