Barcelona, Day One: Mark Webber fastest from Lewis Hamilton on rain-hit start
Red Bull head timesheet for first time in 2013 as F1 goes 3D
By Pete Gill and James Galloway
Last Updated: 28/02/13 11:03pm
While the teams and drivers were pictures of frustration as Barcelona endured British-like weather on a cold and rather damp day in Catalonia, F1 fans were at least given a glimpse into the final preparations of the 2013 field with the final two hours of the day broadcast on Sky and in 3D.
And it was during those final two hours of the day that the circuit finally began to dry out and lap times tumble, with Webber taking the reigning triple World Champions to the top of an end-of-day-timesheet for the first time in 2013, even if his 1:22.693 lap time was around a second slower than the ultimate dry-weather pace set around the same circuit last week.
"The level of the wind wasn't trivial, we got one hour at the end of the day at half-sensible conditions and we had a look at a few different compounds. When it's like that, you are either doing longish runs or short runs to look at performance and we opted to throw on some tyres and see how the car went - and that went ok," the Australian told Sky Sports F1.
"We've still got work to do...We are seeing some very fast times from the other cars. There are some very strong teams out there. We're not on our own - that is for sure."
Lewis Hamilton, having earlier set the pace on intermediate tyres at lunchtime, took second place for Mercedes as the Brackley team again topped a century of laps, the Briton finishing ahead of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne and Williams rookie Valtteri Bottas.
"We got some good running and it was a good race simulation," said Hamilton. "I'm really happy, we are making progress and moving forward. Either tomorrow or Saturday we will be putting on upgrades and I'm really looking forward to that."
Ferrari also succeeded in clearing 100 laps but were forced to call a halt to what appeared a race simulation in the improving conditions when Felipe Massa stopped in the F138 on the side of the track with 25 minutes to go.
That red flag aside, the final hours of running had been a far cry from the morning when rain showers, both overnight and into the start of play on Day One, had made it an anticlimactic start to the week of testing billed as the most crucial of them all.
Lotus's Romain Grosjean swiftly found out how tricky the conditions were to his cost as he slid off the road and into the gravel at Turn Twelve on one of his very first laps, bringing out what would prove the first of three red flags during the course of the day.
While the rain remained intermittent and varied in intensity throughout the morning, the driest period came mid-way through the session when Hamilton, on a consistent 16-lap run on the intermediate tyre, completed a handful of laps in the 1:41 bracket
But hopes that the track would further dry out before lunch were scuppered by the onset of even heavier showers, the sudden downpour - for the third time in two test days - catching out Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez who spun off in the long Turn Three.
The morning's second red flag, and increasing rain, brought an effective halt to the opening session of the week but the afternoon, if not bringing more characteristically sunny Spanish skies, at least remained more settled and, eventually, allowed slick-tyre running.
While the initial afternoon forays were completed on both wet tyre types, slick tyres were eventually pressed into service and among the first to make the switch was Massa who started improving his personal best lap time - and the test's as a whole - by up to two seconds a lap at a time.
The rest of the field swiftly followed suit and, as in any fast-drying session, the top of the timesheet began to resemble the metaphorical fruit machine as times and positions began changing with almost a random frequency.
When the music eventually stopped, it was Webber who found most time on the medium tyres amid a run of just two flying laps before responding to a late Hamilton challenge following the red flag for Massa's stoppage. He then improved still further with a late run on the softs.
Day One timesheet.
1) Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:22.693, 89 laps, Soft tyres.
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:24.348, 113 laps, Medium tyres.
3) Jean Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:25.017, 59 laps, Medium tyres.
4) Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:26/458. 85 laps, Super Soft tyres.
5) Sergio Perez, McLaren, 1:26.538, 100 laps, Super Soft tyres.
6) Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1:26.574, 91 laps, Soft tyres.
7) Paul di Resta, Force India, 1:27.107, 57 laps, Medium tyres.
8) Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:27.541, 112 laps, Medium tyres.
9) Max Chilton, Marussia, 1:28.166, 78 laps, Medium tyres.
10) Charles Pic, Caterham, 1:28.644, 83 laps, Medium tyres.
11) Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:34.928, 52 laps, Medium tyres.