Jerez, Day Three: Massa surges to fastest time as Mercedes bounce back in style
Ferrari set new bechmark for test but Mercedes clear a century
By James Galloway and Mike Wise at Jerez
Last Updated: 07/02/13 7:26pm
With both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg denied any lengthy track time on the opening two days of the test, Mercedes entered the third day of running in southern Spain under pressure and desperate for mileage after putting just 29 on the clock through Tuesday and Wednesday.
However, Day Three witnessed what can only be described as an empathatic turnaround as Nico Rosberg racked up a mammoth 148 laps behind the wheel - nearly the equivalent of two race distances - to surely calm some of the hysteria that accompanied the Brackley team's early troubles.
"To drive the distance from Silverstone to Spa in one day with no problems whatsoever is a fantastic achievement from the team," declared Rosberg. "I'm very happy with today and I think it was probably a personal record for me to do almost 150 laps."
In a further plus, the car's pace also impressed with Rosberg finishing second on the timesheet.
"I can push the car and feel comfortable - but obviously we still have plenty of work to do to continue improving," added the German.
Yet Rosberg's fastest lap of 1:18.776 lap was still nearly a second slower than Massa's as Ferrari made their own big statement on Thursday.
On a short run on the soft tyres during the late morning, the Brazilian, on his final appearance of the week, clocked what stands as the fastest time seen around the twisty Jerez circuit this winter - 1:17.879 - and was never headed thereafter.
Triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel made his first appearance of the winter on Day Three and his maiden session in the RB9 went smoothly as he took third place, the German one of three drivers to break the 100-lap barrier as Red Bull's encouraging start to the winter continued unchecked.
"It was great to get back in the car, to get rid of the rust and to get back in the groove again," said Sebastian. "The first feeling is good and the car is working well. It's difficult to judge the speed, but in terms of reliability it looks pretty good.
Kimi Raikkonen was another high-profile driver behind the wheel for the first time since Brazil last November but the 2007 World Champion experienced something of a bitty return with only 40 laps posted in all.
While early-morning aero runs and general work in the garage to ensure the Finn was comfortable in the E21 meant he wasn't initially seen on track that often, with Alan Permane confirming that "the car isn't yet fully to Kimi's liking", Raikkonen still managed to show another glimpse of the car's pace mid-way through the afternoon with a shorter run that took him to fourth.
However, the first sign of falability from Lotus in 2013, which centred around problems with the car's clutch, meant he had to sit out the final two hours.
Fifth went to Jean-Eric Vergne at the end of his first day in the Toro Rosso STR8, despite at one point stopping at the end of the pitlane, with Force India tester James Rossiter recovering from an early tangle with one of his own mechanics in the pitlane to claim sixth on his morning in the VJM06.
After opening the test with the fastest time on Day One, Jenson Button couldn't repeat the feat on his return to the cockpit of the MP4-28 and his best time on Thursday was actually three tenths slower than he managed two days before.
However, McLaren were clearly working on other things and three long runs towards the end of the day brought what had been a meagre lap total up to a satisfactory 83, Button's final stint totalling 19 laps.
On a week of debuts, Mexican youngster Esteban Gutierrez became the latest one-time GP2 to christen his F1 career - the new Sauber driver putting 110 more miles on the C32.
Reliability problems weren't confined to the top teams, however, with both Caterham's Charles Pic and Force India's Paul di Resta - due to an exhaust failure that terminated his afternoon running - also losing valuable track time.
Jerez Day Three Timesheet
1. Felipe Massa, 1:17.879, 85 laps
2. Nico Rosberg, 1:18.766, 148 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel, 1:19.052, 102 laps
4. Kimi Raikkonen, 1:19.200, 40 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne, 1:19.247, 85 laps
6. James Rossiter, 1:19.303, 42 laps
7. Jenson Button, 1:19.603, 83 laps
8. Esteban Gutierrez, 1:19.934, 110 laps
9. Max Chilton, 1:21.269, 78 laps
10. Valtteri Bottas, 1:21.575, 86 laps
11. Charles Pic, 1:22.352, 57 laps
12. Paul di Resta, 1:23.729, 7 laps.