F1: Maldonado fastest again as McLaren woes continue

For the second time in three days, Pastor Maldonado topped the timing sheets in his Lotus E23 Mercedes.

Sam Bloxham

Supersoft tires helped Pastor Maldonado to secure the top spot for Lotus on the third day of testing at Barcelona. It was another relatively uneventful day notable for more dramas at McLaren-Honda, after the team appeared to have made some progress Friday.

Jenson Button was back in the MP4-30 on Saturday as Honda introduced the revised MGU-K (motor generator unit – kinetic) seal. Unfortunately it proved to be problematic, and McLaren announced that it would reengineer it for the final day on Sunday. Button completed on 21 laps on Saturday, and was at the bottom of the times. Button ran only 12 laps on Thursday so he has totaled only 33 this week, as Fernando Alonso will drive again tomorrow.

Maldonado went top after beating a time set earlier in the day by Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, who was also getting a feel for the supersofts. The Dutchman remained second fastest at the end of the day, and also topped the mileage charts on 129 laps as he continued his education.

“We achieved a lot today and it was great to complete so many laps and end the day as the fastest car,” said Maldonado. “Certainly, I feel much more confident in the E23 and we’re learning a lot about it with all the laps we’re completing. I’m able to push when needed and everything about the whole package feels a lot more together than last year, especially if you remember where we were in terms of performance and reliability during the pre-season in 2014. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re making very good progress so we’re all very positive about the work being done.”

“A good session and the first time I’ve done over a hundred laps in a single day,” said Verstappen. “We got through a lot of items on the job sheet, with some faster runs in the morning. The car felt really good and it seems we are improving the car step by step.

“Compared to after the first test in Jerez, I feel more confident and more comfortable with the car, as I start to learn about every aspect of the job. Now, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the engineers can come up with for the final test here next week.”

Lewis Hamilton was third fastest for Mercedes but once again the team was concentrating on the long game, and his best time – some 0.7 seconds off Maldonado’s – was set with the medium tire.

After gearbox problems robbed him of a lot of track time, Marcus Ericsson took fourth spot in the Sauber, having run only 55 laps, with his best time set on the softs.

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Sebastian Vettel had an embarrassing early spin into a gravel trap on cold tires, but the German eventually logged 105 laps after another solid day for Ferrari. Daniil Kvyat was back in the Red Bull, while Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas shared the Williams, with the Brazilian driving in the morning. Like Mercedes the team did not seem too bothered about ultimate lap times.

“We learned a lot today,” said Kvyat. “It was good to follow up Daniel’s total of yesterday with a lot of laps again today. That kind of consistent running is very useful for us and very encouraging. It’s hard to know where we are and it’s too early to make any kind of predictions, even though we’re getting closer to the first race. We’re just getting on with the job, making the car better every day and very productive days like today are really important.”

Meanwhile Pascar Wehrlein gained some more mileage in the 2014 Force India.

Full Saturday results: