Formula 1 Pre-Season Test 3: 5 Observations from Day 3 at Barcelona
Things started to get serious as Formula One entered its penultimate day of pre-season testing.
With the cars now more or less exactly as they will appear at the Australian Grand Prix in a fortnight's time, most of the teams are now well into their preparations for the season opener at the Albert Park circuit.
This was most evident at Ferrari, who have chased headline lap times for much of the winter but, on Day 3 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, conducted their first race simulation with their 2015 car.
Ferrari's change in focus was just one of a number of things that caught our attention on the third day of the final test, with McLaren-Honda, Force India, Mercedes and Lotus also featured here.
Ferrari Finally Complete Race Simulation with Kimi Raikkonen
Most of their rivals had completed race simulations in last week's test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the afternoon of Day 3 saw Ferrari finally run their car in grand prix configuration.
The team's program risked being thrown into jeopardy in the morning session, however, with Ferrari confirming "an electrical problem, combined with some pre-planned work" left Kimi Raikkonen stuck in the garage. Nevertheless, the Finn still managed to complete 51 laps prior to lunch.
It proved to be a good warm-up for the 2007 world champion, who completed his race stint within two hours of the afternoon session.
According to Sky Sports' Live Blog, Raikkonen suffered a drop-off of three seconds over the course of his stint on the hard tyres, although the Finn's fall in pace could have been for a variety of reasons, including traffic.
In his final day behind the wheel ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen completed a total of 136 laps.
More Frustration for McLaren-Honda
It was a somewhat surprising move when you consider that extra track time would have come in handy for Jenson Button, who has spent much of his winter stuck in the garage as the team sort out their many reliability problems.
But Magnussen, who was replaced by Alonso as a race driver for 2015, did a credible job in the morning session.
On the back of McLaren's most productive day of testing on Friday, which saw the Honda-powered MP4-30 complete a century of laps in a single day for the first time, Magnussen, on soft tyres, set the team's fastest lap of testing thus far with a best time of one minute, 25.225 seconds.
However, the Dane only returned to complete one more lap after the lunch break, with McLaren confirming an oil leak had forced the team to bring a premature end to their running once again.
Despite only recording 39 laps in total, Magnussen seemed pleased enough with his first taste of McLaren's new car, tweeting the MP4-30 "feels great!"
It's becoming increasingly clear that McLaren has a good baseline to work with in 2015, but it's imperative that the team end pre-season on a high on Day 4.
Force India Continue to Exceed Expectations
Remember how amazing it was when Mercedes, despite running with a brand new car, completed 157 laps on the very first day of pre-season?
It was one thing for the reigning world champions to unveil a new machine and immediately rack up the miles, but it is quite another when a midfield team comes along and does the same thing.
Force India were supposedly a team in turmoil this winter, missing the first test completely and delaying the introduction of their new car until almost halfway through the third and final test.
The odds were firmly against the Silverstone-based team, but the VJM08 has been a revelation thus far.
After completing 77 laps on its debut on Day 2, the new Force India completed more laps than any other car on Day 3, with Nico Hulkenberg racking up 76 laps in the morning session alone.
The German, in his second consecutive day behind the wheel, ended the day with 157 laps, with a significant improvement in his lap times.
While Hulkenberg's fastest lap on Day 2 was a 1:28.412 seconds, his best time on Day 3 was a 1:24.939—a difference of 3.473 seconds, an indication of Force India's growing confidence with the car despite the VJM08 being at an early stage of its life.
Mercedes Still Rapid but Lose a Chunk of Track Time
Mercedes showcased their true pace on Day 2 as Nico Rosberg posted a time of 1:22.792 seconds, an effort that was 1.2 seconds quicker than the next best time set by Valtteri Bottas.
Lewis Hamilton, in his final day of pre-season testing, reinforced the Silver Arrows' speed on Day 3 by topping the time sheets with a fastest lap of 1:23.022 seconds, which was set on soft tyres when those around him, as per Sky Sports' James Galloway, were running with the theoretically faster super-softs.
The day wasn't a complete success, however, with Mercedes losing around four hours of track time either side of lunch as the team, according to their official Twitter account, carried out what they referred to as "experimental setup changes."
Whether the reigning world champions used that term to disguise some reliability concerns, or whether they felt that comfortable to mess around with the car's setup, is open to interpretation.
As a result of their lost track time, Mercedes ended the day completing the second-fewest amount of laps with 76.
Romain Grosjean's Test Ends in Style
Day 3 was Romain Grosjean's last appearance of the winter and the Frenchman enjoyed a very productive day at the wheel to sign off in style.
The Lotus E23 ran reliably throughout the day as Grosjean, as per the team's official website, spent the morning completing aerodynamic assessments and setup work before going on to tackle a race simulation.
Grosjean ended the day with 116 laps under his belt—a nice addition to the 140 completed by Pastor Maldonado on Day 2—with his best effort of 1:24.200 seconds good enough for fifth on the time sheets.
In terms of reliability, Lotus are almost unrecognisable from the team of a year ago, with the Enstone-based outfit managing just 127 laps across the entire four days of the final pre-season test of 2014.
All lap times in this article, unless stated, have been taken from the official Formula One website.