Chilton quickest as Barcelona test gets underway


A late surge saw Max Chilton - yes Max Chilton - top the timesheets on the first day of the second in-season test.

After three days of sunshine for the Grand Prix, it was altogether different this morning, the eleven drivers on duty getting to work on a wet track in unseasonably cool conditions. Thankfully however, the rain gave way around lunchtime and when the sun finally made an appearance the track soon dried.

Marussia, like its rivals, took the opportunity to conduct some wet tyre evaluation work on the extreme wet and intermediate tyres in the morning while the afternoon allowed for plenty of running on the dry tyres, starting with the medium compound and the moving on to the soft and supersoft.

The drier conditions enabled the Banbury-based squad to achieve its aero data collection objectives and work on developing set-ups from the race weekend. A late charge saw Chilton take pride of place at the top of the timesheets, with a time that (in theory) would have given him fourth on the grid for last Sunday's race.

"Generally we've had quite a successful day," said Chilton, "and to end it in P1 is obviously a real bonus. We've made steady progress throughout the day and to get the car to such a good place in terms of set-up, and then be able to see just how much we can extract from it, is a really big step from the race on Sunday to what we have achieved today. The conditions were pretty tricky this morning and on one occasion caught me out when I locked up and went straight on into the gravel. It's always good to get some wet weather experience with the car though; there are quite a few occasions over the next few races where I can see that coming in quite handy.

"After the lunch break, once the weather had improved, we were really able to start working through the set-up improvements we wanted to explore further after the weekend," he continued. "We went step by step through the programme, verifying everything we had concluded from the race here, and we can be really pleased with where we've got the car to. With another day of testing, I think we can leave Barcelona with the package in a really strong position."

"Today's running has been quite tricky from the point of view that the weather has not really helped us to get consistent testing conditions," admitted Chief Engineer, Dave Greenwood. "However, aside from that, it's been a very useful day for the Team. Our priority was to re-examine some of the set-ups we had tried at the race weekend, having struggled to get them to work in a race weekend context, without the benefit of several new tyre sets to enable better testing conditions.

This morning's wet running allowed us to recheck our wet set-up and improve the performance of the car. This afternoon, we were able to do some aero data collection in the period where the track was drying, along with good set-up work. It appears overall that we have improved the balance of the car from the race weekend and, somewhat cautiously, I would say that we have overcome, to a large extent, some balance issues that we have struggled with all year. We will see how this development continues as we take these set-ups forward. Our final position on the timesheet - P1 - was somewhat influenced by the use of the supersoft tyre in a qualifying simulation, however even up until that point we had been very pleased with the competitiveness of the car. Tomorrow will see Jules back in the car and we look forward to verifying what we have learned and continue experimenting."

Charles Pic enjoyed his first day in the Lotus E22 by setting the second fastest lap of the day, the Frenchman posting a time of 1:26.611 using the medium compound tyres during the course of 70 trouble free laps.

"It was a good first time in the E22," said Pic. "The new generation of cars are very different from those before with the new power units and all the other changes in how you drive them. I didn't get so many laps in the morning as the weather was very different from what you'd expect for Barcelona, but I think we optimised the day and completed everything we could. It was good day for the team and a good day for me. It felt really great to be in the car - it's been too long since Brazil last year!"

"We were cautious with our programme today and didn't go out when the track was at its wettest in the morning and thankfully we were rewarded with a much drier afternoon," added Alan Permane, "even with ongoing showers - when we could complete a good haul of laps. We ran through various aero and mapping assessments as well as trying different set-ups with the car. We didn't have any reliability issues today which allowed us to make good progress. Charles had a lot to learn with the new car and all the various procedures as well as a range of track conditions and different tyres used. He delivered exactly what we wanted from him today; he's done a very good job."

Forty-eight hours after his victory here, Lewis Hamilton was back in action for Mercedes. The German team's programme began with control systems evaluation in the damp conditions before the break while the afternoon running focused on setup, engine management and aero evaluations in addition to practice starts.

"Today was a pretty normal test day," said the world championship leader. "We completed a lot of practice starts and tried a few different things with the car during the afternoon once the track dried out a bit. Of course, test days aren't as much fun as a race but it's part of the job. It's important for the team and it's also been productive for me in terms of getting the car where I want it after struggling at times last weekend. Conditions were obviously very different but we got some dry running in and I felt happier with the car by the end of the day. Every lap you do in the car you learn a little bit more and these in-season tests are useful given the limited running time we have.

"Although we have a good advantage right now, the moment we stand still our rivals will be ready to pounce so we have to stay on our toes at all times," he admitted. "I've got a busy week leading up to Monaco but I'll be doing some work back at the factory before that weekend. It's a massively demanding circuit and with the oversteer moments created by the extra torque from the cars this year we'll have to watch our proximity to the walls much more closely. Every driver loves going to Monaco and I'm aiming to keep up the positive momentum from the last four races.

Whilst he finished fourth on the timesheets, 0.531s off Chilton's pace, it was a difficult day for Kimi Raikkonen who appeared to spend more time off track than on it. Indeed, over the course of the day he completed just 21 laps, less than half that of any other driver.

The Finn, who was unhappy with the tactics that saw him leapfrogged by teammate Fernando alonso on Sunday, returned to the garage after just a few corners this morning because of a power unit failure and wasn't back on track shortly after 4pm.

On the Maranello outfit's agenda was set-up testing using the soft and medium tyres, although work was further delayed by the need to change the power unit and later, when the floor had to be replaced, following a spin at Turn 4. The Iceman will be back on track tomorrow for the final day of the test.

Jean-Eric Vergne who retired from Sunday's race with an exhaust issue had it a little better today, the Frenchman completing 51 laps on his way to posting the fifth best time of the day. His team, along with Sauber, was obliged to devote today's running to trying out experimental compounds and constructions for Pirelli.

At Force India, Nico Hulkenberg completed 53 laps on his way to posting the sixth best time of the day.

Following a frustrating weekend, having struggled with his tyres throughout, Felipe Massa was on duty for Williams as the Grove outfit focussed on aero evaluation and mechanical work.

"As expected we had rain this morning so we had a wet test plan in place, which was successful," said Rod Nelson, the team's Chief Test and Support Engineer. "This was designed to help us in any wet races or qualifying situations in future so we gathered some useful data. This afternoon it dried up so we could complete our aero tests and some longer runs. As usual during testing, we have plenty of data to analyse now as the day has been very productive."

"Every time we get in the car we are learning," added Massa. "We didn't get in as many laps as we had planned as it rained in the morning, but we still used this time to improve our wet performance. The car has shown over the weekend and today that it is very competitive. We tested set-up and aerodynamics changes today but there were no new parts so we could focus on the finer details. It's great to leave Barcelona knowing we have made a step forward."

Another driver who had a frustrating weekend was Jenson Button who was back on duty for McLaren today as the Woking outfit seems to refine and evaluate the MP4-29 after a difficult weekend.

The overnight rain meant a slow start to the morning's running, with Button and the team electing to complete a brief run on the intermediates before calling an early stop for lunch. With the track drying into the afternoon, the team pressed on with the programme, conducting aero correlation work while also evaluating some new components - which provided several interesting areas for potential future development.

Notwithstanding seven red-flag stoppages and a further mid-afternoon rain shower, Button and the team completed 74 laps and finished eighth overall.

Tomorrow test and reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne will try an F1 car for the very first time, an ideal first opportunity for the young Belgian. His day will be solely focused on undertaking development work for Pirelli, therefore providing him with a consistent baseline from which to learn about and understand the car.

With good weather forecast, the team also aims to provide him with an opportunity to complete 300km - the minimum mileage required to earn his Formula 1 Superlicence.

Caterham continues to be off the pace, Kamui Kobayashi's best lap 3.667s off Chilton's stunner and 1.768s down on Jenson Button who finished the day eighth to the Japanese driver's ninth.

Kobayashi would no doubt have improved his time but for a late off which has left his crew with a long night ahead.

"Even though the day ended with a pretty big off it's still been quite a good day for us," said the Japanese, "and we've managed to get through a lot of work. As the track was wet this morning we did six runs on wets to start with and a final one before lunch on inters, working through various setup options on those compounds that will be useful when we have the next wet sessions in a race weekend.

"As the track and air temperatures increased throughout the morning the track was drying out so after lunch we did a couple more runs on inters but by about 1400 it was dry enough to switch to slicks so we went onto the planned dry running program, starting on mediums. We'd made quite a few changes to the car from the setups we were running over the race weekend and I have to say I think we made some good progress. There was a bit more light rain in the middle of the afternoon so we did a few more in-and-out laps on inters to run some more aero evaluations, but went back to dry tyres for the rest of the day and continued with more setup work.

"Unfortunately in the last half hour I went off in turn three on run 22 and hit the barriers pretty hard. There is quite a lot of damage to the car so I'm sorry for the guys in the garage who now have a long night ahead to fix the car, but the only good thing is that it was at the end of the day after we'd got through most of the runplan."

After many hours spent driving the RB10 in the team's simulator Sebastien Buemi finally got his first taste of the real thing. It wasn't altogether smooth running for the Swiss driver, however, as following the wet weather conditions in the morning a mechanical failure subsequently ended his day's work with 54 laps on the board.

"It was the first day for me in the RB10 and I experienced a bit of dry and a bit of wet, which was good," said Buemi. "We mainly concentrated on trying to understand the car better after the weekend and trying to improve it. We also worked on some correlation with the simulator, as I spend a lot of time in that. Then we had a gearbox problem, which stopped us, but otherwise it was a decent day. As ever, it was really about gathering data. We don't get many opportunities for this type of testing so it's important to get as much information as possible."

"We were in a good place first thing this morning with the car all set to run," added Race Engineering Co-ordinator, Andy Damerum, "but unfortunately the weather got in the way a bit. We moved things around on the schedule and managed to get what I'd called a lot of 'stocking filler' jobs done, but we really would have preferred dry running. We had Sebastien Buemi in the car today and he spends quite a bit of time in the simulator, so we wanted to give him a proper feel for the new car and do some correlation work to make sure that what's happening in the simulator and what's happening on the track is the same.

"Of course the race drivers use the simulator as well," he continued, "but it's Sebastien who does the lion's share of that work. We were able to do quite a bit of work in that area when the weather improved, which was good. We were also running a lot of other test items today, all of which are aimed at improving the package as a whole, so what with the weather it was quite a complex day. It was then made more complicated by the mechanical failure, which prevented us doing any more running. Sebastian Vettel takes over tomorrow and we have quite a packed programme so hopefully we'll get in a full day's running."

Giedo Van der Garde was on duty for Sauber, the Swiss team on tyre testing duty for Pirelli, as was Toro Rosso. In the afternoon the Dutchman went through a planned programme consisting of long runs with high fuel, completing 86 laps.

"Today we got the tyre programme from Pirelli which was on high fuel," said the Dutchman. "We tested several hard compound tyres as they gave us various options. In the morning we were interrupted by light rain, but we could still test a few intermediate tyre options. After that, the track dried off and in the afternoon we completed the test programme for Pirelli. I think it was a good test day. I am happy that I was back in the car again."

"The weather was unfortunate," sighed Paul Russell, the Hinwil outfit's Test Engineer. "We had some light rain early morning and it was also quite cold. For the morning session Pirelli gave us a test programme with intermediate tyres. As there was a lot of water on the track, the conditions were difficult and that’s why we couldn’t race that much in the morning. In the afternoon we moved to the slick tyre testing which has been entirely on high fuel. The session was interrupted by a light shower, but we continued our programme with long runs after the track dried off. Nevertheless, we could run through our afternoon schedule and got some valuable results for Pirelli. It is good that Giedo got more time in the car which is great for him and for the team as well."

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Chris Balfe

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Published: 13/05/2014
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