Rosberg fastest as rookies take their turn in Austrian F1 test
Unsurprisingly, Mercedes topped both days of F1 testing in Austria this week as nine teams took part in the second and final two-day in-season test, following a similar exercise after the Spanish GP last month.
As in Barcelona, Manor opted not to take part. But for the other nine teams it was a welcome chance to catch their breath and get some development and data gathering work done away from the pressure of a race weekend, and thus lots of new parts and aero packages were tried out.
Tuesday was badly disrupted by rain, to the extent that a red flag was out for much of the morning. The teams eventually agreed to a two-hour extension to make up for lost time, and the action thus ran until 8 p.m. local time. The green track meant that times were still a little off when it was dry, so the nine drivers in action on Wednesday were all faster than the quickest time set on Tuesday, although the difference between the slowest driver on Wednesday and the fastest on Tuesday was just 0.083 seconds.
Under FIA rules, one day at each test has to be reserved for a rookie, or more specifically a driver who has started fewer than five races in the past two years. The only teams not to run a regular race driver over the two days were Force India and Ferrari.
The first day was very much a day for rookies, with only two full-time race drivers – Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean – in action. On Wednesday there were more familiar faces on track, with Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Nasr and Fernando Alonso all taking part.
Two Mercedes protégés topped the times on Tuesday, with Pascal Wehrlein at the head of the order in the works car, and GP3 man Esteban Ocon taking second spot on what was his second outing with Mercedes-supported Force India. The latter team was running its new B-spec bodywork in full for the first time, the package including a new nose with two ‘nostrils,’ which was only see briefly.
Ferrari Driver Academy member and GP3 racer Antonio Fuoco made his first F1 appearance and got off to a bad start when he went off at Turn One and damaged the car. However, later the Italian managed to get some good laps in, and he was fourth overall for the day, between Verstappen and Grosjean.
Red Bull GP2 driver Pierre Gasly got some more time in the RB10, while Ferrari protégé Raffaele Marciello, who has already done some FP1 sessions for Sauber this year, gained more miles with the Swiss team.
Having dominated the GP2 season thus far, Stoffel Vandoorne was given a chance to log some miles with McLaren. After the team’s appalling Austrian GP weekend, the car ran reliably, and the Belgian was able to complete 77 laps free of mechanical dramas.
Susie Wolff had another outing for Williams ahead of her planned FP1 session with the car at the next race in Silverstone.
On Wednesday, Rosberg topped the times for Mercedes after enjoying a two-day break since winning Sunday’s race.
Ferrari third driver Esteban Gutierrez was given a chance to try the SF15-T, and finished the day in second spot, after running a program that focused on tires and aero work. He survived a brief trip into the gravel.
Bottas was third for Williams on Wednesday, while BMW DTM racer Marcus Wittmann – handed a chance by Red Bull to try the Toro Rosso – did a solid job to be fourth fastest.
“This has been an amazing experience for me,” he noted. “I was surprised at the power of the car; if I compare it to DTM, it’s got quite a lot more power! I enjoyed the whole day, which was trouble free, so I was able to do a lot of laps. I’m happy with my day, I hope the team is too.”
His fellow DTM racer Wehrlein transferred across the Force India for Wednesday, and was fifth fastest for the day, while regular Lotus FP1 driver Jolyon Palmer did some more laps in the E23.
Meanwhile McLaren had another productive day as Alonso completed 104 laps, again without major dramas. The Spaniard was able to try the full kit of latest updates after his crash in the race meant that they were not all available for Vandoorne on Tuesday.