JEREZ, Spain February 10 – Double world champion Sebastian Vettel returned to the track for the first time in two months on Thursday, but was overshadowed by German compatriot Nico Rosberg.
Vettel, behind the wheel of the new Red Bull RB8, clocked 1min 19.297sec in his first stint of winter testing with Rosberg flying to a day’s best of 1min 17.613sec in his Mercedes.
“It’s been two months since we were in the car, so it does take a couple of laps to get back in the rhythm, but the car feels fine and as we expected,” said Vettel.
“There’s quite a loss of grip due to the regulation changes, but you get used to it quickly and then start to explore how the new car feels. So far we can be happy, we had a couple of issues, but it’s normal when the car is new.”
Rosberg’s speed followed on the trail of teammate and former seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher who was fastest on Wednesday with 1min 18.561sec.
“I’m happy with the testing that we have achieved here in Jerez, and we learned a lot about the Pirelli tyres and a few other things for the new car,” said Rosberg.
“It seems that the tyres are closer performance-wise this year, with the rear tyres also looking a bit stronger.
“You can’t really compare the lap times with other teams, but it was interesting to learn a lot with our 2011 car. Now I’m really looking forward to the two Barcelona tests with our new Silver Arrow.”
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean clocked the second-fastest time of the day with 1:18.419 off 117 laps while Britain’s Lewis Hamilton was fourth in his McLaren.
“Today felt pretty good considering it was my first time in the new car. My initial feelings are pretty positive, despite going through a long, tough programme of initial tests — there were no nasty surprises, which is pleasing,” said Hamilton.
“This year’s car feels a bit different from last year’s. In 2011, we had so much stability from the rear-end, particularly in the high-speed corners, but we’re now having to find that grip elsewhere, or, at least, take grip off the front and somehow offload it at the rear.”
The third day of testing at the Spanish circuit took place in challenging, chilly conditions with Force India unable to get extensive track time after French driver Jules Bianchi buried the car in the gravel.
Force India were unable to repair the damage, which left Nico Hulkenberg kicking his heels until Friday’s final day of testing.
1. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes-AMG) 1min 17.613sec 118 laps
2. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus-Renault) 1:18.419 117
3. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull-Renault) 1:19.297 96
4. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:19.464 80
5. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 1:19.734 79
6. Sergio Perez (MEX/Sauber-Ferrari) 1:19.770 46
7. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 1:20.412 67
8. Bruno Senna (BRA/Williams-Renault) 1:21.293 125
9. Giedo van der Garde (NED/Caterham-Renault) 1:23.324 74