Ferrari’s Felipe Massa set the pace on the penultimate pre-season test day at Jerez, producing a time of 1:17.879 at the wheel of the F138. The Brazilian led Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg – who completed a mammoth total of 148 laps – by 0.887 seconds, while reigning Champion Sebastian Vettel marked his return in third.
Much chillier conditions greeted the Formula 1 fraternity at the gates of the Jerez circuit on Thursday morning, with the air and track temperatures taking a significant amount of time to reach a meagre 10°C (10°F). Massa was the early pace-setter as the session got underway, being usurped only breifly by the F1 W04 of Rosberg. The latter recovered his team’s lost ground with a series of long-distance runs, completing more than two and a half race distances behind the wheel of his new car.
Vettel had a quiet first day at the Spanish venue, much like Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber’s introduction to the RB9 chassis earlier in the week. The German completed two lengthy and consistent high fuel runs at the end of the day to end on a total of 102 laps. The 25-year-old wound up just ahead of Kimi Räikkönen (fourth), who spent the morning adjusting his seat position and racking up aero runs at mixed speeds.
Aside from the former title winners, there were a number of returning names at Jerez on Thursday. Toro Rosso’s Jean-Éric Vergne was one of them, finishing the day fifth fastest after signalling a brief red flag period when his STR8 stopped at the end of the pit lane. However, the biggest drama of the day came when Force India development driver James Rossiter (sixth) collided with the team’s front jackman upon returning to the pits. Luckily, nobody was hurt in the incident..
Jenson Button (seventh) was back in the cockpit for McLaren this morning, taking over from new team-mate Pérez. Massa had described the McLaren driver’s time as ‘incredible’ on the opening day, but the tables were turned slightly this afternoon. Esteban Gutiérrez (eighth) made his first appearance of the week for Sauber, racking up 110 laps with a focus on assessing brake materials and cooling methods. He was trailed by Max Chilton, who bounced back from his Tuesday crash to finish within 3.5 seconds of Massa.
Valtteri Bottas, Charles Pic and Paul di Resta brought up the rear of the field, the final two drivers both suffering issues. Pic stopped at Turn 2 with a technical gremlin just before the lunch break, while di Resta was unable to complete more than 7 laps after taking over from Rossiter. The Scot’s car was sidelined with an exhaust problem.