Jerez Day 3: Report from the paddock

By on Thursday, February 9, 2012

© Red Bull GEPA

There were many more fans on the Jerez circuit today compared to previous days. Many Spanish fans decided to come to the circuit to watch the first run of Fernando Alonso behind the wheel of the F2012 despite it being a working day today and the low ambient temperatures - by Spanish standards.

The drivers scheduled for today were Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Rosberg, Grosjean, Bianchi (morning), Hülkenberg (afternoon), Perez, Vergne, Senna and van der Garde. HRT completed their participation in the Jerez testing yesterday and did not run today.

As a side note, it was difficult not to feel like a painting in an gallery while working in the media centre. Like yesterday, VIP guests where given a tour through the media centre so they could take pictures of the journalists who were working there. I should have already gotten used to it, but it continues to feel weird.

In Formula 1 news, the news that really matters, the highlight of the day was Jules Bianchi's crash during the outlap of his first stint. The young French driver crashed his VJM05 against a tyre wall, damaging the front wing and brake lines. Given that the team did not have any spares of those parts, the incident meant the end of the testing day for both Bianchi and Nico Hulkenberg, who was supposed to drive the car in the afternoon. For sure, a set back for the Indian team that had been looking very promising so far.

The best time of the day was, like yesterday, set by a 2011 car. Nico Rosberg completed a total of 118 laps in his Mercedes setting a best time of 1:17.613. This time is 0.8 seconds faster than the best time set by his teammate Michael Schumacher yesterday. Nevertheless, times have been generally faster today which could be due to a number of factors, namely the rubbering-in of the track, the improvement of the cars as the testing progresses, but also the better weather conditions and lack of wind.

Once the session was over, Rosberg confirmed that the difference between the tyres was smaller this year, as Pirelli had intended. Rosberg also stated that they were not just testing the new tyres but have also brought some new parts of the 2012 car to test in the 2011 model. Speaking to about the possible problems the team could face in correlating the tyre data they are collecting with the old chassis with the new chassis, Rosberg felt confident it should not cause any real problems if they just choose the appropriate set-up on the new car when they do the comparison.

Among the 2012-spec cars, the fastest was the Lotus E20, as it was on Tuesday, but with Romain Grosjean at the wheel on this occasion. Sebastian Vettel was third and Lewis Hamilton was fourth.

The Lotus set some fast times for the third day in a row, but it unknown how much fuel the black and gold cars are carrying. Grosjean was the driver responsible for the third and last red flag of the session when his car stopped, between turns 3 and 4, seven minutes before the chequered flag. It was a planned stop, though. As Sauber did on Tuesday, Lotus carried out a fuel consumption test today and let the car put it the laps around track until it ran out of fuel.

According to Grosjean, who had the chance to test the 2011 car in a few Friday free practice sessions last season, the main difference between last year’s and this year’s car is that the E20 is much more predictable and the handling is much better in the fast corners. The E20, in other words, is a car you can trust. Interestingly, the French driver also mentioned at the set-ups he and his teammate use are not too far apart. That could end up being an advantage for the Enstone team.

Sebastian Vettel also had a good day even if he admitted that the car has lost grip with the new regulations. Nevertheless, he explained that the car has a good balance and feels good to drive. Hamilton also was satisfied, especially since he could do many laps, something he did not achieve during last season’s tests. Moreover, according to the 2008 world champion, the handling of the new McLaren feels like an evolution of last year’s, even though he did confirm that his sitting position is lower.

The problem child of the season so far seems to be the Ferrari F2012. Hydraulic problems kept the red car inside the garage for several hours and Alonso only managed to complete 67 laps, finishing the session with the 7th best time out of 9 drivers. Only Senna and van der Garde had slower final times. Of course, it is still soon to draw conclusions but many eyes are beginning to have a closer look at Ferrari.

The other team to suffer technical problems was Sauber. A problem with an oil filter, which had to be replaced, cost the Swiss team a lot of valuable test time and Sergio Perez only managed complete 48 laps.

On the other hand, Toro Rosso seems to have overcome the small teething problems they suffered on Tuesday and now the car is running without problems. Jean-Eric Vergne set the 5th best time of the day and looked very satisfied. A similar feeling was expressed by Bruno Senna, who was today at the wheel of the Williams FW34 and could complete his whole program for the day without any reliability issues.

The slowest of the cars that set a time today was Giedo van der Garde, who was driving the new Catherham CT01. The young Dutch driver completed 74 laps before spinning and getting stuck in the gravel trap, which caused the second red flag of the day and finished his testing session. As he confessed to, the reason for the spin was a mistake while braking, the aspect he has found to be the most challenging driving a F1 car. Nevertheless, he almost managed to finish his program and, more importantly, the new car keeps showing remarkable reliability.

Tomorrow will be the last day of tests in Jerez and the teams will try to finish their programs, which should not be difficult for most of them, given that there have not been many red flags during the last three days and most of the teams have suffered only a few reliability problems.

Final times:

Pos Driver Team Time Laps
 1.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes       1m17.613s           118
 2.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus          1m18.419s  + 0.806  117
 3.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull       1m19.297s  + 1.684   96
 4.  Lewis Hamilton       McLaren        1m19.464s  + 1.851   80
 5.  Jean Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso     1m19.734s  + 2.121   79
 6.  Sergio Perez         Sauber         1m19.770s  + 2.157   48
 7.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari        1m20.412s  + 2.799   67
 8.  Bruno Senna          Williams       1m21.293s  + 3.680  125
 9.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham       1m23.324s  + 5.711   74

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