Barcelona, Day One: Nico Rosberg overcomes delays to put Mercedes on top
Gearbox setbacks don't stop Rosberg outpacing 2012's top three
By James Galloway and Mike Wise in Barcelona
Last Updated: 19/02/13 8:39pm
The final hour at the Circuit de Catalunya witnessed a flurry at the top of the timesheet with all four of what would stand as the day's fastest times set in quick succession across short runs on the medium tyre.
Although World Champion Sebastian Vettel, having led the way on the hard tyres from the late morning onwards, lowered his own benchmark to 1:22.952, Rosberg had further speed in hand and chiselled three tenths of a second off of that time to give Mercedes their first day at the head of the timesheets this winter.
The German's assent to the top of the order was all the more impressive given he had earlier spent several hours in the team's garage while they worked on a gearbox issue, which had left him marooned on 14 laps as the field broke for lunch.
However, once back out on the circuit and into the early afternoon sun, Mercedes enjoyed a more productive afternoon and Rosberg's eventual 1:22.616 time was enough to seal opening day honours for the Silver Arrows.
But having led the way for much of the opening day, Vettel ended up down in fourth place in the Red Bull RB9 as, in wake of Rosberg's show of speed, first Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen - lapping a mere 0.007s slower than the Mercedes - and the returning Fernando Alonso also moved ahead inside the final half an hour.
"It's very important to put mileage on the car," Vettel told Sky Sports News afterwards. "We want to understand the tyres but it's cold and in these conditions it is difficult."
Alonso's debut appearance in the Ferrari F138 certainly provided the day's biggest story and the Spaniard's first of three consecutive days in the car got off to a promising start - the Spaniard the only driver in the field to top a century of laps (110).
While the timesheets remain notoriously unreliable at this stage of testing, the Ferrari showed good pace relative to the Red Bull on some longer runs during the afternoon.
Williams had proved centre of attention during the morning when they unveiled their new FW35 and they too could point to an encouraging start at Barcelona, Pastor Maldonado putting 86 laps on the brand new challenger and finishing in fifth place.
"The FW35 feels like we have made a real step forward. There is still a lot to discover with the new car, but this is a good starting point for us for the season," the South American reported.
The Grove outfit's new car has already proved controversial, however, with Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz revealing that both Caterham and Williams have been warned that their current exhaust configurations are illegal.
"My understanding from the FIA is that both interpretations would be declared illegal were they run to run on the respective cars at the opening race," reported Ted.
"Of course, however, it's all speculative at this stage as this is still only testing and teams can run their cars how they like, meaning neither version of the filter might make it all the way to Melbourne in any case."
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth for Toro Rosso, ahead of McLaren's Sergio Perez as the Woking team again spent much of the day running under the radar.
While a largely smooth opening day at the Spanish GP venue, there were two brief stoppages for red flags during the seven hours of track action, the first for Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber when the team conducted a dry-fuel run, and the second when Caterham's Charles Pic pulled off the road after 49 laps.
Barcelona Day One Timesheet
1. Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:22.616, 54 laps.
2. Raikkonen, Lotus, 1:22.623, 44 laps.
3. Alonso, Ferrari, 1:22.952 110 laps.
4. Vettel, Red Bull, 1:22.965, 66 laps
5. Maldonado, Williams, 1:23.733, 86 laps.
6. Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, 1:23.884, 73 laps.
7. Perez, McLaren, 1:24.124, 77 laps.
8. Di Resta, Force India, 1:24.144, 82 laps.
9. Gutierrez, Sauber, 1:25.124, 68 laps.
10. Chilton, Marussia, 1:26.747, 65 laps.
11. Pic, Caterham, 1:27.534, 49 laps.