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F1 Testing, Day 3: Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari set winter's fastest time

Vettel posts 1:17.182 on hypersoft tyres to lower Barcelona benchmark again; But Mercedes catch the eye with long-run pace; McLaren finally run reliably as all teams top 100 laps

Sebastian Vettel unleashed the fastest time of pre-season testing so far as Ferrari grabbed the headlines on the penultimate day of F1’s winter action.

On a day all teams - including under-pressure McLaren - completed well over 100 laps, Vettel set by far the quickest as he became the first driver since the Circuit de Catalunya lap was lengthened in 2007 to clock a time below 78 seconds.

The German's 1:17.182 on hypersoft tyres meant the circuit's unofficial lap record was broken for the second time in as many days. Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull had first managed it on Wednesday, but Vettel's Thursday time was nearly nine tenths of a second faster.

"We've made good progress in understanding the car," said Vettel. "For now, the important thing is that we know our car is working in the way we want and the way we expect."

Hamilton welcomes Ferrari surge

The fastest laps of winter testing per driver (up to Day Three, second test)

Driver Team Test Day Tyre Lap Time
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Seven Hypersofts 1:17.182
Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Six Hypersofts 1:18.047
Kevin Magnussen Haas Seven Supersofts 1:18.360
Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso Seven Hypersofts 1:18.363
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Six Ultrasofts 1.18.400
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Six Ultrasofts 1:18.560

But the timesheet picture was clouded by neither world champions Mercedes, the pre-season favourites, nor Red Bull completing lower-fuel performance runs.

That left Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas back in eighth and ninth respectively, while Max Verstappen was 12th.

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"But l am enjoying driving the car," said Hamilton. "It is an improvement. Last year's car was great but this car feels better."

The most laps completed per team after Day Seven

Team Number of laps
Mercedes 839
Ferrari 772
Renault 770
Sauber 711
Red Bull 691
Williams 687
Toro Rosso 666
Force India 548
Haas 513
McLaren 506

But all three teams did complete race simulations, with the Mercedes W09 in particular catching the eye on the medium tyre.

Ferrari (188 laps), Red Bull (187) and Mercedes (181) headed the mileage charts.

The fastest laps of F1 Testing
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But with two of the 'Big Three' out of position on the timesheet, Ferrari customers Haas finished in the heady-heights of second place with Kevin Magnussen on the supersofts while Honda-powered Toro Rosso were third thanks to Pierre Gasly with a late winter-best effort.

Haas and Toro Rosso are now unexpectedly among the timesheet leaders after seven days of testing.

McLaren turn the reliability corner?
Despite four breakdowns in the space of two days this week, McLaren had repeatedly stressed they were not in 'crisis' and Day Three saw their disrupted winter get back on track.

Stoffel Vandoorne completed 151 laps and posted the team's best lap of the winter so far, 1:18.855, on the hypersofts. However, the time was only good enough for sixth and was 1.6s slower than Ferrari's benchmark.

"Today was a very positive day and lots of laps," said Vandoorne. "This morning we went through a lot of set-up work, understanding about the tyre compounds, and a lot of learning we missed a little bit at the start of this week and also last week with the bad weather conditions.

"This afternoon we completed a full race distance, which was nice to get all the laps under our belt and have a feel for the car in race conditions.

"It's been a very productive day. It was my last day in the car and now looking forward to Melbourne."

Intriguing, Renault, the Woking team's engine suppliers, finished two tenths ahead on the same compound, with Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz again sharing driving duties as the Enstone team trialled a new front wing.

As times continued to tumble, Marcus Ericsson lowered Sauber's best time of testing by nearly 1.7 seconds and took seventh, ahead of the out-of-position Mercedes'.

Robert Kubica made his first appearance of the test in the Williams and completed 73 laps during a morning run-out with a best time of 1:19.629 on supersofts - seven tenths better than Lance Stroll's quickest of the winter on softs and nearly two seconds up on Sergey Sirotkin's best.

Stroll appeared for 67 laps in the afternoon and was slowest of all with the hypersofts.

Meanwhile, Force India continued to give little away about their prospects for the new season. Sergio Perez racked ip an impressive haul of 159 laps, but was only 11th fastest.

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