Barcelona F1 testing, Day Three: Nico Hulkenberg stars for Force India
Force India driver quickest on mediums, softs and supersofts; Unreliability strikes McLaren and Renault; More long-distance running for Mercedes; Fuel issue for Ferrari
By William Esler in Barcelona
Last Updated: 24/02/16 7:15pm
Nico Hulkenberg marked his first day of 2016 action with an impressive display as Force India finished quickest on Day Three in Barcelona.
The German posted a best time of 1:23.110, the second quickest of the week so far.
What made the lap more impressive was despite being set on the supersoft tyres, Hulkenberg was only two tenths slower than the benchmark time set by compatriot Sebastian Vettel on Day Two using the quicker ultrasoft tyres on his Ferrari.
It is impossible to know how much fuel both cars had onboard for their respective laps, with Hulkenberg posting the time on just a three-lap run. Nevertheless, the Force India VJM09 looks an impressive car and has performed admirably across different tyre compounds this week.
"I wouldn't get too excited at these early stages. Today we tried a bit more to see and test where our package stands at the moment more that the competition," said Hulkenberg.
"There is no reason to get over excited, but I think the package looks okay so far. However, there is still a lot of work in front of us."
Romain Grosjean went second quickest late on for Haas on the soft tyres as F1's newest team continue to impress. In all, the Frenchman completed 82 laps, taking the team's pre-season mileage to around the 555 mile mark.
It was the first time that Ferrari haven't been quickest at this test. Kimi Raikkonen lost the first two hours of the day due to a fuel system issue, but did manage to complete a half century of laps in the SF16-H. Setting his fastest time on medium tyres, the Finn ended the day 2.8 seconds behind Hulkenberg.
After a difficult two days saw Jolyon Palmer complete just 79 laps in total due to reliability issues for Renault, Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a better day, posting the fourth quickest time and completing over a century of laps.
However, the Dane couldn't escape all the gremlins and came to a stop on the pit straight with an hour of the session remaining. He was sent out again after a brief stop in the garage, but only made it to the end of the pitlane before stopping again.
McLaren's day also ended prematurely after a hydraulic leak bought Jenson Button to a halt at the end of the pitlane. After two days of solid running, it amounted to the first setback of the winter as they bid to recover from their wretched 2015.
Mercedes opted to split their day's running between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton and the German completed 74 laps during his morning's running.
"We need to push the car to its limit in order to find little problems. At some point something will break and for now we need to keep on going to find out where the little weak points are," Rosberg said.
"Lap time-wise, it's not realistic where we are. We haven't showed our cards, we're holding back, but the car is quick."
Hamilton took over after lunch adding a further 87 laps as the Silver Arrows demonstrated incredible reliability once again.
The world champion ended the day in eighth with another 88 laps to his credit and Mercedes are quickly closing in on the 1500 mile mark in pre-season.
On his final day behind the wheel of the STR11 this week, Carlos Sainz was the busiest driver as he completed 161 laps for Toro Rosso.
Propping up the timesheet was Manor newbie Rio Haryanto. The Indonesian will make his F1 debut this season and completed 78 laps on his first day in the car. He did cause a red flag with a spin at Turn Five towards the end of the morning session.
Day Three timesheet
1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:23.110, supersoft tyres, 99 laps;
2. Romain Grosjean, Haas, soft tyres, 1:25.874, 82 laps;
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:25.977, medium tyres, 77 laps.
4. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1:26.014, soft tyres, 111 laps;
5. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:26.084, medium tyres, 74 laps;
6. Carlos Sainz, 1:26.239, medium tyres, 161 laps;
7. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:26.392, medium tyres, 115 laps;
8. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:26.421, medium tyres, 88 laps;
9. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1:26.497, medium tyres, 74 laps;
10. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:26.712, medium tyres,109 laps;
11. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:26.919, medium tyres, 51 laps;
12. Rio Haryanto, Manor, 1:28.249, medium tyres, 78 laps;
Keep up to speed with all the latest news, pictures and video from all eight days of F1 testing via the daily live blog on the Sky Sports website and mobile apps. Sky Sports News HQ will also broadcast regular updates from trackside in Barcelona.
Every race live in 2016
Sky Sports F1 brings you every race live in 2016. Fast and easy online upgrade - click here.