A new challenge awaited the drivers on the final day of the first pre-season F1 testing. As Barcelona has been basking in sun for the past three days, the track was artificially soaked overnight to allow for wet weather running today.
Pirelli are keen to gain as much information as possible on their new wet and intermediate compounds, so the track was allowed to dry over the morning letting the teams get a better understanding of the crossover between the two rubbers.
Unfortunately Williams Martini Racing confirmed first thing this morning that they would be absent from the final day of running due to further damage detected on the FW40 overnight, following Lance Stroll’s collision with the barrier late yesterday afternoon. They will now prepare themselves for the second testing, which begins on 7 March.
Max Verstappen was first out onto the wet track, kicking up spray reminiscent of Brazil 2016. Within an hour all drivers, except Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez, had joined the action, eager to get the most of the fast-drying track. And then came the news that Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team were investigating an electrical fault, hence their absence. It’s the first known issue the team has suffered all week.
Verstappen became the first to switch onto intermediate tyres, leap frogging Kimi Raikkonen to go quickest, and being the catalyst for the other teams to make the switch. But the Barcelona-sun was making quick work of the drying and the times kept tumbling down; and then another first for Red Bull Racing, this time the first to dip below the 1:30s.
Sergio Perez eventually graced the circuit, confusingly sporting full wets on what was by then a mainly dry track, flailing ten seconds off the pace set by his competitors.
So dry that Raikkonen deemed the conditions suitable for slicks. Following an initial slow lap, he proved his judgement was right and was almost ten seconds quicker than the majority on inters.
With an hour left of the morning session, Hamilton took to Twitter to inform his fans that he had decided not to run today due to their issue, and will instead look ahead to the second testing.
Those who had a car to drive were mostly running on the soft tyres, and the fastest times swapped from Perez to Raikkonen. McLaren Honda Formula One Team’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who’d had an inconspicuous morning, did split the two at one point using ultrasofts but the Scuderia Ferrari soon reclaimed its place top of the leaderboard with a 1:22.305.
With the track practically dry, the W08 was fired into life and Valtteri Bottas managed nine laps in the limited time, finishing eighth with a 1:36.512.
Scuderia Toro Ross finished the session with the car in the garage needing an engine change. Frustratingly they had only managed to run the medium compound for one lap, though they appeared happy with the mileage they had achieved.
Renault Sport Formula 1 Team and Nico Hülkenberg on the other hand completed the most laps, 51 in total, with a best time of 1:24.974 being good enough for sixth.
A last-minute dash for the line by Romain Grosjean saw the Haas F1 Team finish second with a 1:22.739 on the supersofts.
The track received another wetting over lunch allowing for a repeat of the rather uneventful morning.
Bottas risked three soggy laps on extreme wets before returning to the dry haven of his garrage, before heading back out and was the only car for a while until Grosjean joined him. The Haas driver completed another short stint, only five laps long. There was a pattern emerging.
Within an hour and a half the track had dried enough for Bottas to switch to slicks. Despite Pirelli’s best attempts, the water they had laid down was either insufficient to test aquaplaning or not around long enough to do any intensive wet weather running.
Verstappen’s afternoon contribution was delayed owing to the team investigating an exhaust issue, presumably the same problem that hampered the team on day three. Verstapoen and Vandoorne joined Bottas out on track mid-afternoon after the Finn had been driving around on own for some time, sitting fourth with a 1:23.900.
Around this time Pirelli announced their findings; the wet tyres need more work, specifically in switching them on.
With a drying track, Jolyon Palmer replaced Hülkenberg in the Renault to give the inters a spin around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Perez utilised the additional grip afforded by the supersofts to jump up to second in Sahara Force India’s VJM10. His 1:22.681 was instantly bettered by Verstappen who set a 1.21.839 on softs, both still off the pace that the cars are capable of.
Williams may have been missing from the track but the team did receive a new monocoque by road. With the second test starting on Tuesday, the team’s day was far from over.
With less than an hour to go, Raikkonen retook the top spot, improving to a 1:21.263. Vandoorne could only summon fourth with a time of 1:22.721 on ultrasofts, two tenths off Perez who set his lap on softs. The day must be seen as a positive one for McLaren, though, as they completed their fifty eighth lap.
By now Haas had broken through the century barrier, the only team to do so today, and seem to be one of the few teams making the most of this week’s track time. They finish on 115 laps with a fastest time of 1:22.309.
In a final flourish Antonio Giovinazzi clawed Sauber Formula 1 Team to fourth on the ultrasofts, only to be knocked down one by the unrelenting Haas.
Palmer climbed to third on the softs with a 1:21.778, and that move was the last change of the day. The action fizzled out, doused like the track.
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