F1: Maldonado fastest during eventful first day of Barcelona tests

Pastor Maldonado put on the fastest lap during testing at the Circuit de Catalunya on Thursday despite stopping on track twice.

Sam Bloxham

F1 testing action resumed in Barcelona on Thursday after the teams spent the two weeks since Jerez frantically developing their cars. There are two four-day sessions in Spain, with a short break in between, before the first race in Melbourne.

Pastor Maldonado set the best time of the day for Lotus, but the big news was elsewhere, for in stark contrast to Jerez it proved to be something of a disastrous first day for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton was forced to give up after running just 11 laps in the morning, complaining of what his team boss Toto Wolff described as flu. He had not set a representative time.

Unfortunately, Nico Rosberg was not able to step in as he is suffering with a trapped nerve in his neck. The team was thus forced to call on third driver Pascal Wehrlein, who began the day on Force India duty. When the young German switched back to the works car, Sergio Perez duly took over the VJM07. Later, the W06 lost time with a fuel pump issue on what was clearly not a good day for the team. The plan for Friday is that Rosberg starts the day and, if he still has a neck problem, Hamilton – who apparently felt better by the end of Thursday’s test – will take over.

The other big talking point of the day was a collision between the Sauber of Felipe Nasr and the Williams of development driver Susie Wolff. Both cars were badly damaged, but Nasr did at least get out again in the last half an hour, while Wolff was seen again in the closing 15 minutes.

Maldonado set his quick time late in the day, while running soft tires. Although he caused two red flags earlier on the day when he stopped on track, it was a good day for the Lotus team, as it gets used to Mercedes power.

“It is always good to see your name at the top of the timing monitors and my fastest lap was just in the course of our normal program for the day,” said Maldonado. “It feels good to drive the E23 in Barcelona. The car responded well to the changes we made and we were able to complete a good number of laps. The team has made strong progress since Jerez and we have a great starting point for the rest of the week.”

Once again Ferrari looked strong throughout, and Kimi Raikkonen was fastest until usurped by Maldonado. However, the Finn set his time on mediums. Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest for Red Bull, the car still running in black and white camouflage livery. The Aussie set his time on the soft tires late in the day.

“The car felt good today,” said Ricciardo. “We got a bit of running done on a few different compounds, which was interesting and we got a lot of data, which is always good. I think we’re chipping away. We’re definitely making progress but it takes time. However, I think come Melbourne we’ll be there.”

Photos from F1 testing in Barcelona

Perez was fourth fastest in the Force India, although – given that it is still the 2014 car – the performance has little relevance. Nasr was fifth fastest after losing several hours while his car was repaired, while Max Verstappen was sixth for Toro Rosso, having logged more laps than anyone else over the course of the day.

It was another difficult day for McLaren and Honda as extra mileage continues to pinpoint new problems. In the morning, Jenson Button was sidelined by an MGU-K seal failure after running only 21 laps, with a best time some 3 seconds off the front running pace that left him seventh for the day. While the team is addressing the issues, its Friday running may be compromised as well.

The times were completed by Wehrlein (in the Force India and then the Mercedes), Wolff and Hamilton.