Lotus Impress Amidst Ferrari Struggle In Final Pre-Season Test

As the team that needed a positive start to the final pre-season test, Lotus-Renault got it in a perfect fashion. Frenchman Romain Grosjean was quickest on the first of four days. His time of 1:23.252 put him in first, ahead of Jenson Button by over two tenths of a second.

Grosjean quickest on day one

It was to ensure the team got some attention of the right kind after their embarrassing chassis problem forced them to head back to base during last week’s sessions. Grosjean said that he felt no different from last week and that the car is enjoyable to drive:

“When you have a problem you are a little bit wondering what is going on,” Grosjean said, “so we checked all day long that everything was fine – but I knew what we needed to do to repair the car and make it strong.

“It doesn’t change much. [I have] Exactly the same good feeling as in Jerez [at the first test], we can push and we can trust the car – and you can really play with it, which is enjoyable.”

Webber not being telling

Fourth-placed Aussie Mark Webber was not giving any estimates as to where the form lies, saying that while it appears close between teams at the testing stage, analysis is not fruitful:

“The racing will be between several teams for sure, and it is difficult to understand who is doing what at the moment because we have such a big variation in fuel and tyre conditions and all sorts of stuff.

“You can analyse it until you are blue in the face, but ultimately, even until I’ve done the race in Melbourne, we then need to go to Sepang [in Malaysia], and we need to get a picture of how the championship is unfolding.

“It’s not just going to be one event. One 90 minute race in Albert Park won’t be deciding the championship.

“It’s going to be whoever can pull things together for the first part of the championship, come back with some decent points, and go from there.”

Rosberg's Mercedes has been showing well

Nico Rosberg helped Mercedes improve an continued to show good reliabilty, completing 128 laps during the day – the most of anyone on the opening day. Sure of plenty of motivation around the team, he is confident that they can be where they want to be:

“It is just great to be part of this progress within the team, everybody is very motivated, pushing hard, and it nice to be part of that.

“I look forward to what’s to come, and to be part of this climbing towards the front. We have made a good start, so it seems that everything is going in the right direction.”

Barcelona, Day One Times

1. Grosjean Lotus 1m23.252s 73
2. Button McLaren 1m23.510s +0.258 64
3. Perez Sauber 1m23.820s +0.568 118
4. Webber Red Bull 1m23.830s +0.578 102
5. Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.992s +0.740 128
6. Vergne Toro Rosso 1m24.216s +0.964 113
7. Di Resta Force India 1m24.305s +1.053 98
8. Massa Ferrari 1m24.318s +1.066 105
9. Petrov Caterham 1m24.876s +1.624 123
10. Maldonado Williams 1m25.587s +2.335 58

Quickest again

 The same man ended day two at the peak of the laptimes. Lotus and Romain Grosjean finished as the quickest on the second outing of test three in pre-season. Confidence is key and he feels that he has it with the new car:
“You can trust the car and push it to the limit,” said the Frenchman. “If you push a little bit too much you know what is going on next, and this is really good when you are driving the car.

“You push hard and it understeers in the fast corners, then if you push a little bit harder there will be a little bit more understeer. But what is not coming is that you have a snap from somewhere and you don’t understand what is going on, which is not really nice when you are driving.”

The Lotus team have been putting in solid times over the course of testing, and Romain has urged the team to continue with development and more will come:

“This year, we have to bring every race new pieces, even if it is half a tenth or a tenth. It will make the difference at the end of the year. There are 20 grands prix and, if you bring one tenth, which is maybe too optimistic, but half a tenth at each grand prix, then you are one second quicker at the end of the season.”

Lewis is confident

Also in a pleasant mood was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Despite being near the foot of the times in ninth, he is sure that the Woking-based squad have kept an upward trajectory of progress with more still to come:

“Our car feels better set-up wise, we still haven’t added the new aero package – so I think we’ll get a better picture of what the car will be like in Australia over the next two days.

I think the car’s strong – stronger than it was last year at this point,” he said.

“With the fuel loads that we’ve been running, I think we are relatively strong compared to the others, but I’m not necessarily saying we’re the fastest. We’ll find out when we get to Melbourne.

“But I definitely feel we have a competitive car and we’ll be fighting for a podium finish, for sure.”

Barcelona, Day Two Times

1. Grosjean Lotus 1:22.614 124 laps
2. Vergne Toro Rosso 1:23.126 45 laps
3. Vettel Red Bull 1:23.361 85 laps
4. Alonso Ferrari 1:23.447 125 laps
5. Kovalainen Caterham 1:23.828 104 laps
6. Kobayashi Sauber 1:23.836 77 laps
7. Hulkenberg Force India 1:23.893 33 laps
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1:23.978 79 laps
9. Hamilton McLaren 1:24.111 65 laps
10. Senna Williams 1:24.925 48 laps
11. Maldonado Williams 1:25.801 20 laps

Red Bull aren't standing still for anyone

Fastest at times at the previous test, it was Sauber who ended day three as top dogs. However, it was Red Bull that were talk of the track after they brought a completely revised car to the circuit.

Containing new front and rear wings, a new exhaust layout amongst other tricks, it is their version of the big update package which teams usually bring towards the end of pre-season testing. Down-playing its significance, driver Mark Webber said the car did not feel much different to before the updates:

“The thing that everyone’s obviously asking about is the changes we made to the car but I have to say the car was not massively different to the one I drove on Thursday,” said Mark Webber coyly. “We went through our normal programme, nothing drastic happened, and we just keep working away.”

Kimi is typically being The Iceman

Kimi Raikkonen was characteristically cool despite his Lotus-Renault team’s problems with the power steering system on day three. Given their drastic loss of time at last week’s testing due to their withdrawal from it, more issues were the last thing they needed.The Finn was realistic:

“I guess you always wish to have more days, but it is what it is and you have to deal with it,” Raikkonen said.

“At least in the first week we had very good running and I don’t think we have any major reliability issues in the car so I think that’s a good thing. We had one problem last week – that’s fixed and there are not going to be any more issues. Now it’s just to get things on a level where you think you’re happy and you know to press the right buttons at the right time. Maybe a few more days wouldn’t hurt but I’m very confident that we will get it right.”

Ferrari are no happy bunch

Following incorrect rumours on social networking website Twitter of driver Felipe Massa being sacked, Ferrari took a risk and ordered their drivers to not speak to the media. The Italians have designed a car which appears to have poor traction from slow corners which in turn further eats into tyre wear, which was an issue to begin with. There did appear to be signs of improvement judging from previous comments from both drivers, but a ban on speaking to media is never a good sign.

1. Perez Sauber 1m22.094s 114 Laps
2. Button McLaren 1m22.103s +0.009 44 Laps
3. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m22.155s +0.061 131 Laps
4. Massa Ferrari 1m22.413s +0.319 122 Laps
5. Di Resta Force India 1m22.446s +0.352 108 Laps
6. Senna Williams 1m22.480s +0.386 111 Laps
7. Kovalainen Caterham 1m22.630s +0.536 64 Laps
8. Webber Red Bull 1m22.662s +0.568 70 Laps
9. Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.932s +0.838 129 Laps
10. Raikkonen Lotus 1m25.379s +3.285 43 Laps

Lotus have put in good times

The final day of pre-season testing concluded with Kimi Raikkonen as fastest man on a time of 1:22,030. The Finn’s comeback has progressed well, with comments urging patience to those who expect him to be fighting at the front. He seems to have more motivation than at previous times in the sport and he will be a good benchmark on which returning man Romain Grosjean to be judged.

Vettel had car troubles on the final day

The benchmark on which all others look set to put themselves against is Red Bull and their star driver Sebastian Vettel was cautious when judging how he feels after the end of the final test before the season’s start:

“You always have things you hope were better, there are not many years you can give yourselves a 10. Overall we can be quite happy, happier than five and less than 10. Somewhere in between.”

It was far from a perfect day for the German. Gearbox troubles and an off-track expedition damaging his front wing meant he completed just 22 laps:

“We would love to be on the circuit more, but this morning I had an issue. I went off track and broke the front wing and had to come in, and it took quite a while to get back out and just before lunch we suffered a problem with the gearbox so we have to fix it and get back out after lunch.”

Not giving anything away

He was reluctant to say how the field lies and instead is waiting in the run-up to the first race weekend at Melbourne, Australia:

“Last year was too long ago, I can’t remember. I think it is always a bit the same, you never know where you are until you get to Melbourne and everyone puts their pants down – and you can see what they have got and you show what you have got in qualifying”

Webber feels better for the new season

The past 12 months were difficult for Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber. With just one win compared to his team-mates tally in double figures, he states that he is in much better shape than at the start of 2011:

“I feel better than I did this time last year, in terms of off the back of the pre-season testing, and it is nice to have the feeling I did in Brazil (final race of 2011, which Webber won).

At the start of last season, the Australian felt uncomfortable with both his car and new Pirelli tyres, something that he did not get over for the rest of the season. He is confident of a better time in 2012:

“I feel better than I did last year – which wouldn’t be hard because I was pretty much in the shit at the start of the year, so this year should be better. There were just some some subtle changes. There are parts of the car that have improved a bit and other parts that we have to improve, so this is what the guys in the trucks will be going through.”

Mercedes in better position this time

Having finished as the fourth-best team in both of the past two years, Mercedes are hoping to make the big push and break into the top three. Ross Brawn is sure that it can happen, and that the implementation of a stronger structure at the team will help:

“I also believe we have got a much stronger structure in the company compared to before, greater depth in the company and more resource in the company, so I am more confident that we will move forward.”

“The drivers are understanding the balance of the car they should try and have to reduce the degradation and I think it is how you translate what you learned here to what we are going to have between Melbourne and the first few races which will be the big challenge.”

Ferrari with work to do

After taking the rare step yesterday in ordering their drivers not to speak to waiting journalist, Ferrari’s technical chief was not brimming with confidence. When asked if he was ruling out podium finishes, the Englishman Pat Fry said the unexpected:

“At the moment, I’d say yes. But I suppose I’m always slightly pessimistic. I am disappointed by our performance level at the moment,” said Fry. “I think we’ve got a lot of work to do. The change we made last week to the exhaust position has put us a little bit on the back foot and we’re trying to optimise to that. We’ve obviously still got a lot of work going on at the factory and we’ll have new bits to test in Melbourne.”

Ferrari are a team in trouble at the moment. While they have not failed to win at least one race in a season for near 20 years, they are not starting near the top. Their second driver Felipe Massa needs a strong campaign if he is to remain a Ferrari driver after his current contract ends at the conclusion of the season.  The indications of such a happening are not good after two seasons in which Massa was largely trounced by team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Alonso may be pondering whether his team can truly challenge

The Italian team is not looking so rosy for Alonso as it did when he joined in 2010. The double-world champion has not been in strong contention for the championship which he last won in 2006, and last season’s signing of a contract which runs until 2015 could be weighing on the Spaniard’s mind as perhaps committing for longer than he should have. The 2012 season is make-or-break for a number of drivers, but for Massa and Alonso, it is crucial.

Barcelona, Day Four Times

 1.  Raikkonen      Lotus           1m22.030s           121
 2.  Alonso         Ferrari         1m22.250s  +0.220   115
 3.  Senna          Williams        1m22.296s  +0.266   53
 4.  Hulkenberg     Force India     1m22.312s  +0.282   101
 5.  Kobayashi      Sauber          1m22.386s  +0.356   72
 6.  Hamilton       McLaren         1m22.430s  +0.400   115
 7.  Petrov         Caterham        1m22.795s  +0.765   101
 8.  Schumacher     Mercedes        1m22.939s  +0.909   100
 9.  Maldonado      Williams        1m23.347s  +1.317   48
10.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso      1m23.393s  +1.363   100
11.  Vettel         Red Bull        1m23.608s  +1.578   23

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