Hamilton on top in final pre-season test

Lewis Hamilton made full use of a heavily revised MP4-25 to top the timesheets during the final day of pre-season testing.

Sunday’s session was the first time that Hamilton could get to grips with McLaren’s new aerodynamic package. However, the Brit took no time to adapt to the revised challenger and set a blistering 1m20.472 during a qualifying simulation.

McLaren’s pace was further emphasised in the afternoon, with Hamilton continuing to be fast, despite the team switching to a full race simulation.

Mark Webber was just 0.024 seconds behind in second, after taking over from his team-mate Sebastian Vettel after lunch. Although Red Bull’s program had been delayed over the last few days, due to technical failures, Vettel and Webber still set a healthy number of laps in the car ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Felipe Massa ended the day less than a tenth shy of Hamilton for Ferrari. Many F1-insiders have tipped the Scuderia to be the team to beat in Bahrain. However, the Brazilian was cautious in his comments after today’s session.

“I’m satisfied with the whole of testing, not just Barcelona,” said Massa. “Valencia and Jerez too – we did what we wanted to do, but it looks like it will be a very tough and competitive championship.

“We never expected to have an advantage and to go to the first race and win in an easy way, definitely not. We expect to have a competitive car, and this I think we have done. The car is reliable, but also consistent, and that is what we want to start the season.

“We are not here to be the champions of the pre-season. We are here to work on the car, to try to have a good championship and fighting for the championship.”

Michael Schumacher rounded off Mercedes’s testing program in sixth position. The German completed 122 laps over the course of the day, leading to team principal Ross Brawn declaring that the Silver Arrows are closer to the front than some have predicted.

“I think we’re close enough to have a go, but we’re not enjoying the situation we had last year. I don’t think anybody is.” he said.

“At the beginning of testing it looked like Ferrari were dominant, and now you’d have to say that the teams are all pretty close based on this test.”

Meanwhile, the sport’s two newest teams continued to trail at the bottom of the times. Heikki Kovalainen completed 65 laps on his way to 11th in the Lotus, with Luca di Grassi nearly 6 seconds off the top time in 12th.

Pos Driver         Team/Car            Time            Laps
1.  L. Hamilton    McLaren MP4-25      1:20.472        134
2.  M. Webber      Red Bull Racing RB6 1:20.496 +0.024 61
3.  F. Massa       Ferrari F10         1:20.539 +0.067 114
4.  A. Sutil       Force India VJM-03  1:20.611 +0.139 100
5.  S. Vettel      Red Bull Racing RB6 1:20.667 +0.195 76
6.  M. Schumacher  Mercedes GP W01     1:20.745 +0.273 123
7.  R. Barrichello Williams FW32       1:20.870 +0.398 84
8.  K. Kobayashi   Sauber C29          1:20.911 +0.439 67
9.  S. Buemi       Toro Rosso STR5     1:22.135 +1.663 88
10. R. Kubica      Renault R30         1:23.175 +2.703 107
11. H. Kovalainen  Lotus F1 T127       1:25.251 +4.779 65
12. L. Di Grassi   Virgin Racing VR-01 1:26.160 +5.688 49

Rosberg takes Mercedes to the top on Saturday

Nico Rosberg recorded the fastest time yesterday at the Circuit de Catalunya in a rain-hit penultimate day of testing.

The German was followed by a neat-looking Toro Rosso in the hands of Sebastian Buemi, underlining the potential the Italian team has, and Jenson Button, who despite having focused on race simulation for the majority of the day nevertheless pumped in some quick laps towards the end of the day.

Bringing up the rear were Timo Glock’s Virgin, Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber and Jarno Trulli’s Lotus.

Times were as follows:

Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m20.686s 128
2. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m21.413s + 0.727s 106
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m21.450s + 0.764s 105
4. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m21.975s + 1.289s 101
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.344s + 1.658s 115
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.523s + 1.837s 68
7. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m22.606s + 1.920s 61
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m23.123s + 2.437s 51
9. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m25.059s + 4.373s 102
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m26.216s + 5.530s 105
11. Timo Glock Virgin 1m26.305s + 5.619s 31

Hulkenberg sets fast time to go top on day two

Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg went fastest on day two at Barcelona to give his team a boost mid-way through the final pre-season test.

The German was followed by Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari, cheered each of the 134 times he lapped the Circuit de Catalunya, and Pedro de la Rosa, who again showed the pace of the Sauber car which may well be the surprise of the season.

New teams’ testers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, for the Lotus and Virgin teams respectively, brought up the field.

Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth (B) 1:20.614 99
2. Alonso Ferrari (B) 1:20.637 134
3. de la Rosa BMW-Sauber (B) 1:20.973 114
4. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:21.056 90
5. Vettel Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:21.258 125
6. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:21.571 104
7. M.Schumacher Mercedes GP (B) 1:21.689 85
8. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:22.152 93
9. Kubica Renault (B) 1:24.912 53
10. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth (B) 1:25.524 70
11. Glock Virgin-Cosworth (B) 1:25.942 52

Schumacher accepts Mercedes GP will not win in Bahrain

Michael Schumacher has conceded that Mercedes GP are not currently in race-winning trim after a second day testing at Barcelona saw the German only manage seventh fastest.

Although the team are yet to run the lowest fuel settings for their W01, Schumacher appeared to rule out the possibility of winning the first race in Bahrain.

“At the moment we are not perfectly in the position we would like, probably to be competitive enough to win the first races,” Schumacher told reporters.

“But we are working hard, the season is long, and the main issue is not to be too far off. This is very difficult to judge right now, the real picture.”

He praised the team’s spirit, however, and said there was a good atmosphere within the team.

“We are working very well together, it has taken very little time to get on with everybody,” he said. “They are very good guys, it’s very professional and a good atmosphere.

“But we have to prove ourselves on the track. Testing is one thing, racing is another thing.”

GPDA will vote on chairman in Bahrain

The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association will vote on a new president at the first race of the season in Bahrain, it has emerged. Incumbent Pedro de la Rosa has made the decision to stand down from the post after graduating to a race seat at BMW Sauber this season, and will be replaced by another driver from a direct poll.

“We have taken the decision that we will go to Bahrain, and then we will have the meeting on Friday,” de la Rosa said when asked by AUTOSPORT about the GPDA situation. “We will then ask all the GPDA members what they want to do. I personally would like another guy to step in in my position.

“I’ve done it for two years, so it is healthy. There are guys there who will have more time, and we need dedicated guys. I’ve been very happy with what I’ve done, I think I’ve done a good job, and now it is time for guys with more time to take over. However, I will leave it to them. I think that they will agree with me – but let’s see what they say.”

Fellow directors Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have reportedly agreed with de la Rosa’s decision. A test driver would probably be best to fulfil the duties of the GPDA Chairman – with Nick Heidfeld’s name having been mentioned.

“He[idfeld] is intelligent and experienced, so why not? But it is up to the members. I am very open. If they say, ‘Pedro, we want you to continue’ then I don’t know. I hope not! But I think Heidfeld would be a very good candidate,” said de la Rosa.

Times from Barcelona update

At the end of the first day’s testing in Barcelona, the times were as follows:

1 Webber 1m21.487s; 2 Hulkenberg 1m22.407s, 3 Rosberg 1m22.514s; 4 De la Rosa 1m23.144s; 5 Button 1m23.452s

First day at Barcelona: Webber scorches rivals

Mark Webber upset the perceived form book today at the Circuit de Catalunya with a series of extremely quick laps that put his closest rivals more than a second behind him.

The Australian pushed his new Red Bull RB6 to new heights over a series of qualifying simulations, the evaluation of which will hopefully give some indication of the teams’ relative pace in the coming days.

Webber posted a best lap 1.027 seconds quicker than Mercedes GP man Nico Rosberg, who in turn was two seconds quicker than fifth and sixth best times Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. Nico Hulkenberg was third quickest in his Williams, with Pedro de la Rosa looking to confirm the speed of his Sauber in fourth.

It was another nightmare run for the Virgin team as Lucas di Grassi put his VR-01 into the wall at Turn 9, repairs of which will cost the team valuable time. Meanwhile, Lotus failed to improve the speed of their machine, with Fairuz Fauzy only managing a best time nearly three seconds off that of di Grassi.

Times as of 4pm GMT were as follows:

Pos Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m21.487s 57
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.514s + 1.027s 58
3. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1m22.684s + 1.197s 59
4. Pedro de la Rosa Sauber 1m23.321s + 1.834s 53
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.580s + 3.093s 22
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m24.582s + 3.095s 44
7. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m24.86s + 3.382s 72
8. Tonio Liuzzi Force India 1m25.303s + 3.816s 33
9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m26.208s + 4.721s 54
10. Lucas di Grassi Virgin 1m27.057s + 5.570s 31
11. Fairuz Fauzy Lotus 1m29.795s + 8.308s 37

Campos will make Bahrain; USF1 being investigated

New Campos team principal Colin Kolles has promised that despite continuing rumours over his team, they will make the grid in Bahrain because he “never gives up”.

The ex-Spyker and Force India man has been drafted in to shore up arrangements in the team after a shareholders’ takeover led by businessman Jose Ramon Carabante, and is determined to take the team to Sakhir for the first race on March 14th.

“It is very tough, but we will make it – because I never give up,” Kolles told AUTOSPORT. “We will have the cars in Bahrain and we will be running. This in itself will be pretty much a big achievement.”

The news came as the FIA delegate Charlie Whiting visited USF1 in order to investigate the team’s chances of travelling to Bahrain. It is rumoured that the YouTube founder and erstwhile USF1 backer Chad Hurley is in frantic negotiation with both Campos and Stefan GP to combine their efforts, making a Bahrain appearance all the more likely.

Meanwhile, USF1 signee Jose Maria Lopez has been in contact with Campos’ management to discuss the possibility of driving for them instead. A merge of operations now looks increasingly possible, particularly as Adrian Campos, the founder of the Campos team, has yet to clarify his role in the light of Kolles’ arrival.

New doubts over USF1

New doubts have arisen over American F1 outfit USF1’s ability to make the grid in Bahrain after a senior, anonymous source broke cover this morning.

The source within the team gave an insight as to the real situation within the team and called for YouTube backer Chad Hurley, who has been linked with rival Campos, to step back in and save USF1.

“We feel Hurley and Parris Mullins [adviser to Hurley] have our best interest [at heart] and also feel Hurley has no intention of abandoning us even though the media has said he’s gone with Campos,” the USF1 staff member told AUTOSPORT.

“With all this talk about where US F1 is at, it’s been missed that there are 60+ people who have had to suffer through this for the last two months. All of us left jobs and many of us travelled cross-country for this opportunity.

“In a meeting between the employees, Windsor and Anderson, Windsor put the question up to the employees: ‘Who here doesn’t think we’ll make Bahrain?’ I think he might have meant it somewhat rhetorically, but he was answered nonetheless, and 100 per cent of the staff raised their hands. He was visibly shocked.

“But having said that, throughout the turmoil, the team has really come together and we’re all committed to the project; precious few have left in spite of the uncertainty of whether we’ll be paid this Friday. I’ve never seen such dedication.”

Further reports this evening indicate the FIA has become involved, although they have not yet been confirmed.

Ferrari lay into struggling new teams and FIA

Ferrari have laid into the new entrants for 2010, hinting heavily that they have always been merely part of a proxy war against FOTA by the FIA.

The ‘Horse Whisperer’ column on the Ferrari website, remarkable for its bizarre and probably tongue-in-cheek style, attacked Campos Meta 1 firstly.

“As for the twelfth team, Campos Meta, its shareholder and management structure has been transformed, according to rumours which have reached the Horse Whisperer through the paddock telegraph, with a sudden cash injection from a munificent white knight, well used to this sort of last minute rescue deal,” said the column.

“However, the beneficiaries of this generosity might find the knight in question expects them to fulfil the role of loyal vassal. All this means, it is hard to imagine the Dallara-designed car showing its face at the Catalunya Circuit, with Sakhir a more likely venue to witness the return of the Senna name to a Formula 1 session.”

Troubled USF1 did not escape the wrath of the Whisperer.

“The thirteenth team, US F1, appears to have gone into hiding in Charlotte, North Carolina, to the dismay of those like the Argentinian, Lopez, who thought he had found his way into the Formula 1 paddock, (albeit with help from chairwoman Kirchner, according to the rumours) and now has to start all over again.

“Amazingly, they still have the impudence to claim that everything is hunky-dory under the starry stripy sky.”

Ferrari’s somewhat irreverent implication is that the new teams were always wholly unprepared to enter the sport and were instead used as bargaining tools by the FIA and particularly Max Mosley as he sought last year to force cost cuts on an unwilling FOTA.

Mosley’s combative style, the column goes on to allege, caused competitors like BMW and Toyota to leave F1.

“This [situation] is the legacy of the holy war waged by the former FIA president. The cause in question was to allow smaller teams to get into Formula 1.

“This is the outcome: two teams will limp into the start of the championship, a third is being pushed into the ring by an invisible hand you can be sure it is not the hand of Adam Smith and, as for the fourth, well, you would do better to call on Missing Persons to locate it.

“In the meantime, we have lost two constructors along the way, in the shape of BMW and Toyota, while at Renault, there’s not much left other than the name. Was it all worth it?”

Ferrari’s move is risky, although doubtless motivated by their new confidence with the FIA now Jean Todt is at the helm. Firstly, it risks looking like bullying from the big successful team, and secondly, they are on questionable ground over the exit of BMW and Toyota. It is arguable that it was Ferrari and FOTA’s recalcitrance over cost cutting and the world economy rather than the FIA President’s actions that caused their withdrawal.