The much vaulted upgrades aboard the Mercedes have shown that the team has indeed made significant progress this week in Barcelona. Michael Schumacher topped the timesheets after setting a blistering pace on series of short stints in the morning session before handing the driving duties to his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who ended the day third fastest.
The German duo sandwiched the every impressive Fernando Alonso with Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello the only other drivers within a second of Schumacher’s pace. Kamui Kobayashi, Jamie Alguersuari, Sebastian Vettel, a very impressive Heikki Kovalainen and Paul di Resta rounded out the top ten.
Mercedes have gradually added their upgraded parts throughout the week, a front wing one day, a new exhaust the next but today was the first day that they had the de facto Melbourne contender on track. It was most certainly worth the wait for fans of the Stuttgart manufacturer with Schumacher clearly revelling in having a car capable of giving him the feedback that he needs.
The seven times world champion focussed a lot of time on short, qualifying style stints but his performance drop off when during longer runs has been impressive throughout the week so it clear that tyre wear is not as big an issue for the team as had earlier been the case. This could prove crucial throughout the early races as teams struggle to adapt to the high tyre wear of the Pirelli’s in a race. If Mercedes has found a balance in terms of tyre usage they could be very well placed to spring a surprise in the opening races.
Alonso had another strong day and showed once more why he is being looked at as the biggest competitor to the Red Bulls. Ferrari once more enjoyed bulletproof reliability and completed 141 laps with the team spending most of the day working on medium length stints. Alonso’s fastest lap came on a single lap stint.
It was in this manner that the majority of the faster runners set their times with Sebastian Vettel the exception. The reigning world champion had a low key day, completing just 63 laps, and focussed on five to ten lap stints. The Red Bull team have shown indications of their true speed this week so there was little reason for Vettel to run qualifying simulations today.
Heikki Kovalainen completed 137 laps for Lotus and was particularly impressive. The Finnish driver showed once again why Lotus is so confident about their progress for the upcoming year with a solid qualifying simulation that was just two seconds adrift of Schumacher.
Force India split driving duties with Adrian Sutil and di Resta with Williams also giving Pastor Maldonado time in the car but the Venezuelan needed an engine change and was limited to just a handful of laps.
McLaren also had engine woes with Jenson Button limited to 57 laps. The team has suffered from terrible reliability throughout the winter and Button was only able to complete short stints, on a relatively high fuel load, as the team continue to try and find a solution to their woes.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps
1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m21.249s 67
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.614s + 0.365s 141
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m21.788s + 0.539s 22
4. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m22.073s + 0.824s 67
5. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m22.233s + 0.984s 89
6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m22.315s + 1.066s 98
7. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m22.675s + 1.426s 72
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m22.933s + 1.684s 64
9. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m23.437s + 2.188s 138
10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m23.653s + 2.404s 42
11. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m23.921s + 2.672s 26
12. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m24.108s + 2.859s 11
13. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.837s + 4.588s 57
14. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.375s + 6.126s 46