Defending champ Hamilton fastest on penultimate day of F1 testing

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during day three of the final Formula One winter test at Circuit de Catalunya on Feb. 28, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.

Mercedes again stole the headlines on the penultimate day of testing in Barcelona as Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of the day.

It was a day of relatively little drama as most cars ran reliably, and all but two of the cars logged more than 100 laps.

Like Nico Rosberg yesterday, Hamilton ran the soft for the first time this winter, but the Brit was some 0.3s off the German’s stunning time. He was also only 0.2s quicker than today’s nearest pursuer, Felipe Massa. Hamilton ran only 67 laps today as the car spent a lot of time in the garage, with the team saying it was working on setup changes.

"It wasn’t a particularly spectacular day," said Hamilton. "The track seems to have lost a bit of grip in the last few days so the feeling wasn’t as good. But I’m still glad we got some running done and I feel good in the car. We were trying to understand a few things today with the setup and it gave us a clearer indication of that in the afternoon."

Although Massa was not far off Hamilton, he ran the supersoft tire when he set his best time in the morning. Kimi Raikkonen showed that the Ferrari also has some solid pace as he took third spot, just 0.014s off Massa. The Finn also used the supersoft.

Carlos Sainz Jr. jumped up to fourth for Toro Rosso late in the day, just before he caused a late red flag when he stopped on track.

"This was the sort of day we needed and it went really well," said Sainz. "It means we can go to Melbourne with a boost to our confidence. This afternoon was particularly productive, after we had a couple of minor difficulties in the morning.

"The race simulation went well and overall we did a high mileage, which is obviously the most important thing. I’d like to thank the team for all their efforts during this preseason period, as they helped me learn a lot every time I jumped in the car."

Nico Hulkenberg continued to log miles with the still-new Force India, eventually running more than anyone else as he reached the 158-lap mark. Sergio Perez will take over the car tomorrow.

The big novelty today was the appearance of Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren, with the Dane standing in for Fernando Alonso and getting some useful experience in the MP4-30 should be he called upon to actually race it at any point. After a reliable day yesterday, the car ran only 39 laps after an oil leak curtailed its running.

Sunday is the final day of winter testing and will thus be the last opportunity for the teams to show what they can do before the Australian GP.

1. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:23.022

2. Felipe Massa – 1:23.262

3. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:23.276

4. Carlos Sainz Jr. – Toro Rosso – 1:24.191

5. Romain Grosjean – Lotus 1:24.200

6. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber – 1:24.477

7. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India – 1:24.939

8. Kevin Magnussen – McLaren – 1:25.225

9. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull – 1:25.742