Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes set the fastest lap of Formula One pre-season testing so far in Wednesday's morning session, posting a time of one minute, 19.705 seconds at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.
The former Williams driver enjoyed an ideal morning as he completed 75 laps on a range of tyres before handing over to Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon. The Briton focused on distance over speed during his run, utilising the soft tyre compound to tot up 95 laps.
Once again, it’s Ferrari that look like the most likely challengers to the Silver Arrows, with Sebastian Vettel the quickest driver on the soft compound at the end of the day, just two tenths back on Bottas. However, the Scuderia’s day did end on a downer, with Vettel breaking down in the latter stages.
Here’s a look back at how the day panned out, including the times in full from both sessions.
Here's a look at the timings following the early Day 3 testing action in Spain, per the FIA:
Vettel was the early pace-setter on Wednesday morning after his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had topped the timesheets on Tuesday.
The German four-time world champion was quicker than Bottas early on despite being on medium tyres compared to soft, with commentator Ben Edwards noting the impressive run:
However, Bottas then posted the quickest lap of the week so far as he registered a 1:20.107.
Per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, it was a fairly remarkable reduction on Raikkonen's quickest time from Tuesday:
And the Finn then went even faster as he posted a lap of 1:19.838 on the supersoft tyres and 1:19.705 on the ultrasofts.
The Mercedes team had a fairly auspicious visitor to the garage on Wednesday in the shape of 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg:
Away from Mercedes, it was a good morning for Renault as Jolyon Palmer—who drew a red flag early in the session when he hit the gravel at Turn 3—moved into third place late on after a 1:21.396 lap, per F1:
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed an issue-free morning of action and was able to get some laps under his belt, although his McLaren was still some way off the pace as he finished eighth fastest.
After the chequered flag, Williams rookie Lance Stroll found himself in the gravel for the second time in testing after logging 55 laps on Wednesday morning and had to be recovered.
These are the standings at the end of the afternoon session:
While Bottas’ focus was on speed in the morning, Hamilton’s was on distance in the afternoon, with the Mercedes team gathering plenty of data thanks to his 95 laps out on track.
In doing so, the Silver Arrows asserted their position as the team that’s likely to be on top once again in 2017. Indeed, per the team’s official Twitter feed, only external factors seemed to be capable of putting a halt to Hamilton’s rhythm in the afternoon:
The rest of the field played catchup again, with Vettel impressing during his full day out on track.
Encouragingly, he was also able to dip under the 1:20 mark and did so, impressively, on the soft compound too; to be within such close proximity to Bottas on a slower tyre certainly raised a few eyebrows, as did the fact he was 0.155 seconds better than the Mercedes man’s best effort on the same compound.
But his day did end with a blemish, as a mechanical problem saw the German’s Ferrari break down on the main straight and bring out a red flag.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo remained in the top three spots too and during the interval, offered this insight into the testing day:
However, the team were unable to make the most of the afternoon session, as they reported that the "investigation of an exhaust issue has hampered our afternoon running." Eventually, the Australian would have been disappointed to only have mustered 22 laps in the second stanza.
After a tough day on Tuesday, McLaren and Alonso were able to find some reliability. Although, as noted by Benson, they’re a long way back off the elite teams in terms of pace:
Stroll’s rough week also continued, as he spun off for the third time in two days, prompting the aforementioned red flag. As we can see here, the youngster wasn’t best pleased as he was helped from his car:
Renault enjoyed an impressive day after some problems on Tuesday, with Palmer and Nico Hulkenberg setting the fourth and fifth fastest times on Wednesday, respectively, as well hammering in a combined 93 laps on Day 3 in Barcelona.