F1 Testing: Mercedes, Ferrari slug it out as pace increases on Day Three
Mercedes and Ferrari break 80-second barrier for fastest Barcelona laps since 2009; McLaren begin recovery with most laps so far; Rookie Stroll spins off twice on second day in Williams car
By James Galloway in Barcelona
Last Updated: 17/03/17 12:06pm
Mercedes and Ferrari stretched their legs on the third day of winter testing as F1 2017 began to emphatically deliver on its promise of significantly faster cars.
Wednesday's running produced the quickest laps seen at the Circuit de Catalunya for eight years with Valtteri Bottas's 1:19.705 on ultrasoft tyres the quickest of all.
But after Mercedes showcased the W08's pace by setting the fastest laps on Pirelli's three quickest tyre compounds, Ferrari responded in the afternoon as Vettel lapped 0.247 seconds slower on the soft tyre - a compound two steps harder than the ultrasoft.
Mercedes once more won the mileage battle, however, with Lewis Hamilton's 95 laps from an afternoon of long running adding to Bottas's morning haul of 75.
"It's been a great test so far," said Hamilton. "I'm loving driving the car."
Vettel's Ferrari broke down on the pit straight in the final minutes, but by then the German had racked up the highest individual lap tally of the day - 139 laps.
"It was reliable already at Fiorano [at the car's shakedown] but in terms of performance it's very early to tell," said Vettel. "There is still a lot of work to do."
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo finished a distant third, 1.5 seconds off the pace on soft tyres, before an exhaust issue curtailed the team's running.
Meanwhile, beleaguered McLaren achieved their highest daily lap count yet with 72 but struggled for pace on the timesheet, despite also using the ultrasoft.
Williams rookie Lance Stroll twice spun off the circuit, with his second incident ending in session-ending contact with the barriers. The teenage Canadian also spun out on his debut on Tuesday.
F1 2017 heading for record pace
Amid the promise of cars which lap five seconds quicker than 2016's, Mercedes' Day Three speed represented the quickest lap recorded around the sweeping Barcelona circuit since the dominant Brawn GP cars of winter testing 2009.
Although still 1.3 seconds adrift of the circuit's outright fastest lap from the year before, the new-generation of cars are already three seconds quicker than last winter.
Fastest lap per tyre
|Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||Day Three||Ultrasofts||1:19.705|
|Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||Day Three||Supersofts||1:19.838|
|Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||Day Three||Softs||1:19.952|
|Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||Day Three||Mediums||1:21.609|
Mercedes once more combined shorter running in the morning with a race simulation in the afternoon, although Hamilton's heavy-fuel programme was twice interrupted by red flags.
The triple world champion finished seventh on the timesheet with his best lap of 1:22.090 coming on soft tyres.
McLaren begin to recover lost laps
After two troubled days when the MCL32 spent more time in the garage than out on track, McLaren and Honda started what they hope will prove a recovery in the five test days that now remain before the first race on March 26.
Forced to deny speculation in the Spanish press their relationship with Honda was heading for the rocks, McLaren completed over 70 laps with Alonso at the wheel.
However, despite completing a short run on the ultrasofts, Alonso's quickest time of 1:22.598 was a full 2.8 seconds off the leading pace to underline the uphill challenge still ahead for the once-mighty partnership.
Rookie Stroll in the wars
Williams shifted their driver schedule on Day Three to allow new teenage signing Stroll more time in the car after his debut on Tuesday ended inside 12 laps with a spin into the gravel.
The 18-year-old fell just two laps short of his first F1 century, but his day was marred by two spins off the circuit.
A spin into the gravel at Turn Three during the morning was then followed by a session-ending crash in the final two hours when he made contact with the tyre barriers exiting the tricky Turn Five.
Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz and Renault's Jolyon Palmer also suffered spins to trigger red-flag periods, although the Englishman enjoyed a competitive morning session thereafter and finished with the fourth-quickest lap.
Day Three Timesheet
1) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 75 laps, ultrasoft tyres, 1:19.705
2) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 139 laps, soft tyres, 1:19.952
3) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 70 laps, soft tyres, 1:21.153
4) Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 51 laps, soft tyres, 1:21.396
5) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, 42 laps, soft tyres, 1:21.791
6) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 124 laps, supersoft tyres, 1:21.824
7) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 95 laps, soft tyres, 1:22.090
8) Romain Grosjean, Haas, 56 laps, supersoft tyres, 1:22.118
9) Lance Stroll, Williams, 98 laps, soft tyres, 1:22.351
10) Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 72 laps, ultrasoft tyres, 1:22.598
11) Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 32 laps, medium tyres, 1:23.540
12) Alfonso Celis, Force India, 70 laps, supersoft tyres, 1:23.568
13) Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 31 laps, medium tyres, 1:23.952