Kimi Raikkonen put in a late run on Thursday to jump to the top of the timesheet at the Circuit de Catalunya, but stayed out one lap too many.
The Alfa Romeo driver pulled off a surprise P1 on a day when Mercedes’ new dual axis steering system was the big talking point.
Raikkonen hits the front, and then the reds
After a trouble-free opening day at the Spanish circuit, the Formula 1 teams were back out on track on Thursday morning hoping for more of the same.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, behind the wheel of his copycat RP20, led the way at the lunch break and, while it looked as if P1 was his for the day, Raikkonen put in a late run to steal it.
The Alfa Romeo driver clocked a 1:17.091 to jump to the top of the timesheet on the softest available tyre, the C5.
With over 130 laps on the board for the day the Finn perhaps stayed out for one too many as he ground to a halt between Turns 8 and 9, bringing out the first red flag of pre-season testing.
Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo won’t be too fazed as, according to whispers in the paddock, his C39 ran out of fuel as Alfa Romeo pushed it to the limit.
“For my first testing day, it was an OK one,” he said. “The important thing is that everything seems to be working well, with no major issues.
“The immediate feeling is pretty positive, but it’s still early days.
“There is still a long way to go but I think we made a step forward compared to last year: who knows where this is going to take us, but so far so good.”
Perez dropped to second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault. The Aussie’s morning run was momentarily interrupted when he damaged the RS20’s floor running over a kerb.
Ricciardo explained: “We had a small delay in our running as there was some minor damage on the the floor after I hit a kerb at the exit of turn nine and we had to check it over as a precaution
“We did complete enough running to provide some decent feedback for the team so that’s positive.
“Overall I’d say we’re in a better place that last year and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Alexander Albon was fourth fastest ahead of the spinning Pierre Gasly.
Vettel back on track after a sick day
Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel returned from the sick bed to the race track on Thursday, taking over from team-mate Charles Leclerc in the afternoon.
The German, who was “not feeling great” on Wednesday, covered 73 laps with a best time of 1:18.154 to finish the day sixth fastest.
Leclerc was eighth with the team-mates separated by the ever-improving Williams with George Russell behind the wheel.
Vettel said: “It’s definitely a step up from last year.
“Obviously I had some laps and you feel very quickly the characteristics of the car in some places, in other places I think there are some similarities [to the 2019 car], but I think it’s still very early days.
“We’ve still got plenty of stuff on the list still to go through for the next four days to try and see what the cars doing, how it will respond to certain set-ups and windows where we use the car.
“Obviously we had a clear plan of what we wanted to achieve with this year’s car, and it is going in that direction, but now I think it’s up to us to really explore the car back to front and see how it responds on track.”
More controversy than pace for F1’s top team
Having claimed the 1-2 on Day 1, Mercedes were off the pace on Thursday as Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas trialled the team’s new duel axis steering, DAS, system.
The controversial steering wheel system allows the drivers to change the toe of the front wings, minimising tyre wear while assisting the car in cornering.
The system is, at least according to Mercedes, legal.
“It’s a new system,” Mercedes tech chief James Allison told the media. “We call it DAS.
“It opens up additional possibilities and creates a new dimension in steering. It will benefit the driver throughout the season.
“This isn’t new to the FIA. We’re talking to them for some time now.
“The rules are pretty clear about what’s prevented on steering systems and we’re pretty confident it matches all of those requirements.”
Neither Mercedes driver set the timesheet alight with Hamilton ninth and Valtteri Bottas, who had an electrical problem that ended his day two hours early, down in 13th place.
But, as everyone is well aware in testing, fuel loads and programmes are kept a secret from anyone standing outside the team garage.
Romain Grosjean at it again
One of F1’s most prolific crashers, Romain Grosjean, was at it again.
The Haas driver was extremely busy as he replaced Kevin Magnussen for Day 2, amassing 158 laps.
However, on lap 158 it went rather wrong as he had a huge spin and tagged the wall at Turn 4.
The impact broke his VF-20’s rear wing, not great given that most of the teams have not brought many spare parts to Spain.
“I spun, it had to be me that spun!” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ll be the only one. I’m not the first one, but there just wasn’t enough space there.
“The temperature dropped at the end of the day and the tyres went out of the window.
“We had planned another 20 laps, some 180 in total – with two days taken away from eight last year, that’s a big chunk to lose and we’re trying to do as much as we can.”
The lap times
1 – Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo – 1:17.091 – 134 laps
2 – Perez – Racing Point – 1:17.347 – 145 laps
3 – Ricciardo – Renault – 1:17.749 – 41 laps
4 – Albon – Red Bull – 1:17.912 – 134 laps
5 – Gasly – AlphaTauri – 1:18.121 – 147 laps
6 – Vettel – Ferrari – 1:18.154 – 73 laps
7 – Russell – Williams – 1:18.266 – 116 laps
8 – Leclerc – Ferrari – 1:18.335 – 49 laps
9 – Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:18.387 – 106 laps
10 – Norris – McLaren – 1:18.474 – 137 laps
11 – Grosjean = Haas – 1:18.496 – 158 laps
12 – Ocon – Renault – 1:18.557 – 52 laps
13 – Bottas – Mercedes – 1:19.307 – 77 laps