Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap time of Formula One pre-season testing so far in Thursday's morning session in Barcelona, Spain, as there were further woes for struggling McLaren.
On the penultimate day of the winter action at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Vettel posted a blistering lap of one minute, 19.024 seconds on the ultrasoft tyres having impressed on the soft compound earlier in the session.
Stoffel Vandoorne enjoyed a decent start to proceedings as he set McLaren's fastest lap of testing so far, a 1:21.671 on ultrasofts. But he then drew two red flags late on as he broke down twice—first on the pit straight—to continue a miserable few days for his team.
In the afternoon, as was the case on Wednesday, the drivers traded speed for distance, focusing on some long runs. Here's a look at how the day panned out.
Here is what the timesheet looked like after the early action in Catalonia on Thursday, per the FIA:
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was very quick out of the blocks as he posted an early 1:20.686 on supersoft tyres.
He later registered his fastest time of pre-season testing with a 1:19.352 on ultrasofts as he tried to better Vettel's time, but it was only enough for second place on a morning that was all about the Ferrari driver.
A 1:19.341 for the four-time world champion three-quarters of the way through the session was a huge statement from Vettel given it was on the soft-compound tyre, per Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes:
He then donned the supersofts and improved again before breaking out the ultrasofts and setting his 1:19.024, taking a big chunk out of Valtteri Bottas's benchmark 1:19.310 lap from Wednesday's action.
As noted by Autosport Live, the Ferrari also looked to have plenty more to give as Vettel eased off in the final sector:
Ferrari have enjoyed an impressive seven days of testing so far and proved their pace on Thursday morning, setting a benchmark that may not be beaten before close of play on Friday.
Conversely, McLaren have endured a torrid couple of weeks as their Honda engine has caused a multitude of problems.
However, the session started positively for Vandoorne on Thursday, as he got some laps under his belt and produced McLaren's fastest time so far in 2017.
Even after the first breakdown, the team were able to get the car back out on track for the end of the session.
However, moments later, the McLaren again drew to a halt, this time at Turn 10, prompting another red flag and effectively ending the morning's action.
Here are the final standings from Thursday’s action:
Following on from a late flurry in the early session it took a while for any of the cars to reemerge after the green lights came on, but eventually the drivers settled down to put together some long runs in the afternoon in Catalonia.
As we can see here courtesy of the Red Bull Racing Twitter feed, their man Daniel Ricciardo looked pretty pleased to be getting back underway:
There was no searing speed to match the morning runs from any team, though, with distance in the car clearly the priority.
That went for Vettel too, who had earlier set the fastest lap time of anyone in pre-season. The consistency and reliability of the Ferrari meant that by the end of play, not only had the German totted up the quickest loop, but 156 laps too, more than anyone on track.
Despite this, he insisted Ferrari were still playing catchup to Mercedes. "If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done—and how slow they go in testing historically, how much they can ramp it up for races—it's clear," the German noted, per Benson. "They're very fast if you look at their long-run pace."
Per the Pirelli Motorsport feed, given just one day of pre-season testing remained for the teams, thoughts were evidently starting to turn to the 2017 curtain-raiser in Melbourne:
Over at Mercedes, the team did their usual trick of swapping drivers midway through the day, with Valtteri Bottas jumping into the cockpit in place of Hamilton. The Finn was able to enjoy an incident-free afternoon as he got a whopping 95 laps in the bank.
Elsewhere, it was a prosperous day for Esteban Ocon in the Force India. Not only was the 20-year-old’s haul of 137 laps only bettered by Vettel, he also lodged the third-fastest time of anyone on the day.
The team’s official account was delighted with the efforts of the youngster:
McLaren suffered another difficult session after lunch, with Vandoorne only able to must 15 laps to go with his 33 from the morning. The team’s Twitter feed stated an electrical fault was to blame for their woes on the cusp of the interval, although clearly they hadn’t been fully resolved by the end of play.
There were a couple of red flags that disrupted the flow of the afternoon, with Daniil Kvyat's Toro Rosso and Renault man Jolyon Palmer both losing power.