Fernando Alonso was the fastest driver on track today in Barcelona, his third and final day of testing the new F138 this week.
The day was also notable as it saw Adrian Sutil return to the car. He took the Force India to eighth on the timesheets, with his best lap just over a second slower than that of Alonso.
Sutil, who was dropped by the team in favour of Nico Hulkenberg at the end of 2011, is being considered for the second Force India seat, along with rookie Jules Bianchi.
Hulkenberg, now with Sauber, was the second fastest driver at the Circuit de Catalunya today. Romain Grosjean, who with 119 laps did the most running, was third.
Alonso did his fastest lap of the day before lunch and, with most teams choosing to do race simulations in the afternoon, the 1:21.875 time went unchallenged.
The Spaniard completed another 97 laps, bringing his total for the week to 283. Felipe Massa will be in the Ferrari tomorrow for the final day of the test.
Most of the focus today was on Adrian Sutil and his return to the sport. There has been a lot of speculation over the winter as to who will partner Paul di Resta at Force India, and it surprised many to learn that the team were considering their former driver. The German is said to have significant sponsor backing, and has a very real chance of being selected ahead of Jules Bianchi, who is part of the Ferrari young-driver programme.
Sutil got up to speed quickly, despite his reasonably long absence from the sport. He also seemed to enjoy the experience.
“It was a good day and nice to be back in a Formula One car once again,” he said. “It’s been almost a year and a half since I last drove, but I found that I was able to get back up to speed quickly and set some good times before lunch. In the afternoon we did some long runs and also introduced the hard compound tyre, which feels quite different to the soft and mediums.”
The team were giving very little away as to who they would select as 2013 race driver, or indeed when the announcement would be made. Nevertheless, Jakob Andreasen, Chief Race Engineer at the team, sounded positive about Sutil’s contribution:
“It has been a long time since Adrian last worked with the team, but he did an excellent job of getting used to the car and was on the pace straight away,” he said. “His feedback was good and it was interesting to hear the thoughts of a driver who has not been in a Formula One car for a while. He was very detailed with his comments and provided some good direction for us.”
Hulkenberg, who vacated the Force India seat for which Sutil is now contesting, found himself just 0.285 seconds of the pace of Alonso today, and was sounding very cheerful at the end of his 91 laps.
“It was a positive day,” said the German. “We got a lot of testing done with just minor problems. I ran the soft tyres in the morning here in Barcelona for the first time to get a feeling for those, which was interesting. The car is performing pretty well, and I‘m as happy as I can be.”
Grosjean, who was the first driver to complete a full race simulation this afternoon, also sounded happy, if a little tired.
“I think I’m ready for a sleep after so many laps in the car!” exclaimed the Frenchman. “It’s good to see reliability today to add to the pace we’ve already seen in the car. We’re still at an early stage of development so it’s really promising to see where we are.”
Nico Rosberg could not reach the dizzy heights of the top of the timesheet today, as he did on Tuesday when he was last in the car, but did complete 108 laps to finish the day fourth.
Williams put Pastor Maldonado in the new FW35 this morning, and swapped him with Valtteri Bottas at lunchtime. The two drivers were fifth and sixth fastest, ahead of Jenson Button, who had to settle for seventh.
Mark Webber appeared to be a little off the pace today, finishing ninth on the timesheets, behind Sutil. However, the team were focusing on test parts and long runs today and, after suffering reliability problems yesterday, were happy to complete 108 laps today.
“We had a pretty good run today, we’re learning plenty, so a positive outing for us,” said Mark. “Overall the car ran smoothly and once again we amassed a huge amount of data for the guys back at the factory to go through.”
Jean-Eric Vergne was tenth fastest for Toro Rosso, ahead of Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde.
For unofficial times, click here.