Barcelona, Day Three: Lewis Hamilton sets searing pace, Red Bull decline to show hand
Mercedes show impressive turn of speed to highten expectations
By James Galloway and Mike Wise in Barcelona
Last Updated: 03/03/13 8:13am
On the kind of sunny, spring-like day the teams had been longing for after a miserable first half to the four-day final test at the Circuit de Catalunya, Mercedes used it as their opportunity to show a glimpse of the W04's inherent speed with a series of runs on the soft tyre during the morning session.
Hamilton, completing five runs of five timed laps apiece, improved his benchmark lap on all but one of those occasions with four laps in what had been the hitherto unchartered 1:20s, the best of which was a 1:20.558.
At the time of the stunning lap, which left many observers wondering where exactly it had come from, Hamilton was 1.6s clear of the field. Eventually, late in the afternoon, the gap did close thanks to Ferrari's Felipe Massa, but at seven tenths the gap was still a stunningly large one.
The Brazilian, who like Hamilton was in his car for the final time before the first race in two weeks in Melbourne, used the theoretically quicker super-soft tyres to set 1:22.266 effort, the same compound also used by third-placed Adrian Sutil and Williams' Pastor Maldonado.
Massa's winter season , however, ended 20 minutes early in spectacular fashion when the left-front wheel parted company with the car as he made his way down the backstraight, the wheel appearing to simply explode off its seating.
Ferrari later traced the problem to the front-left suspension upright.
But while Mercedes grabbed all the headlines, pre-season favourites Red Bull, meanwhile, again gave little away about the ultimate pace of their RB9.
Mark Webber largely ran on the harder two Pirelli tyre compounds across shorter stints on his own final day of winter testing, with the Australian as a consequence finishing down in seventh place, a massive 2.1s back on the flying Hamilton.
As expected, however, the RB9 did feature several notable changes including a new front wing, which the team appeared to conduct aero assessments of during the morning.
"We would have liked to get some more laps in for sure, but that is the way testing goes sometimes. Hopefully we have a better day tomorrow," Webber told Sky Sports F1 ahead of handing over the car to Sebastian Vettel.
"We are going pretty well. It is hard to know what people are doing at this time of year, so we just need to get to Melbourne and stop talking."
Elsewhere, Lotus were forced to draft in first third driver, and reigning GP2 Champion, Davide Valsecchi, and then recall Romain Grosjean from Paris, after scheduled Day Three runner Kimi Raikkonen phoned in sick with food poisioning.
The changes meant the Enstone team didn't probably experience the Saturday then wanted, with Valsecchi's morning total of 16 laps only increased by 46 more when Grosjean arrived in time for the afternoon session.
High mileage counts were a feature elsewhere on the grid though with Force India (109), McLaren (101), Toro Rosso (114), Caterham (126) and pacesetters Mercedes (117) all breaking a century of laps.
Indeed, Force India with Sutil, Toro Rosso with Jean-Eric Vergne and Caterham with Gideo van der Garde all managed to complete full 66-lap Spanish GP race simulations during the afternoon as the weather stayed consistent throughout the day.
Less than 24 hours after being confirmed in the seat for 2013, Jules Bianchi made his testing debut for Marussia and equitted himself impressively, the Frenchman completing 74 laps and finishing with a fastest time on soft tyres with was faster than Caterham's van der Garde managed on the quicker red-marked rubber.
Day Three timesheet
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:20.558, 117 laps, Soft.
2) Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:21.266, 94, Supersoft.
3) Adrian Sutil, Force India, 1:21.627, 109, Soft.
4) Pastor Maldonado, Williams, 1:22.305, 34, Soft.
5) Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:22.468, 31, Soft.
6) Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1:22.553, 99, Supersoft.
7) Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:22.658, 59, Soft
8) Sergio Perez, McLaren, 1:22.694, 101, Soft.
9) Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:23.223, 114, Supersoft.
10) Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:23.380, 46, Soft.
11) Davide Valsecchi, Lotus, 1:23.448, 16, Soft.
12) Jules Bianchi, Marussia, 1:24.028, 74, Soft.
13) Giedo van der Garde, Caterham, 1:24.235, 126, Supersoft.