Nico Hulkenberg put Renault at the top of the timing screens on the final day of this week’s pre-season testing.
His lap of 1:17.393s was the fastest of anyone of the four days at work in Spain. It was set in the afternoon, shortly before the Renault ground to a halt near pit entry which curtailed Hulkenberg’s participation to just 24 laps.
Alexander Albon had been fastest in the morning but didn’t manage to improve further following the lunch break. However his time was still good enough for second overall on the day’s timesheets, just ahead of Hulkenberg’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Pre-season test Day 4
The start of the afternoon session saw some of the best conditions of the week so far at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The chilly start had given way to blue skies and strong sunshine, raising air and track temperatures into the mid-20s making it much more representative of what drivers can expect during the season.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was first to come out to play, but his lap times suggested that he was focussed on long runs rather than trying for the top of the timesheets. He was soon joined out on track by Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, but for the first half of the session no one came close to improving on their earlier times, let alone to competing with the morning top efforts of Albon and Ricciardo.
Valtteri Bottas was also in action after lunch having taken over driving duties in the Mercedes W10 from Lewis Hamilton. He eventually went quicker than his team mate had managed in the morning, dislodging the reigning champion from fourth in the standings by a little over a tenth of a second with a time of 1:17.857s.
The first change at the top came with just under 90 minutes remaining on the clock. Nico Hulkenberg put Renault at the head of the class with a lap of 1:17.393s on the softest compound, almost four tenths ahead of Ricciardo who had been in the same car first thing.
However, shortly afterward Hulkenberg also triggered the first red flag of the afternoon when he ground to a halt in the final sector while on a subsequent out lap. “Not sure what happened, but the team told me to stop the car,” the German driver reported when he got back to pit lane.
When the session resumed there were just 50 minutes remaining, and the sun was low in the sky. Even so the final ‘happy hour’ of the week in Spain saw little improvement in times, although McLaren’s Lando Norris moved up to seventh on the back of a late effort of 1:18.431s
That saw him just behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who appeared content to continue putting in the laps in the afternoon without improving his time. Along the way he pulled off a neat DRS-assisted overtake on Albon at turn 1 shortly before the first hour mark. He went on to become the first driver to go over a hundred laps for the day.
Leclerc’s final tally of 138 laps was ultimately exceeded by Giovinazzi, who completed 154 circuits of the 16-turn, 4.655km (2.892 mile) track. However Giovinazzi also trigged the second red flag of the afternoon when the Alfa Romeo stopped at pit exit and needed to be recovered by the track workers. The session resumed with five minutes remaining, only for Giovinazzi to promptly contribute an encore red flag with a second stoppage to finish the day.
It meant that Giovinazzi finished just ahead of the two Haas cars. Morning driver Romain Grosjean had ceded the seat to Kevin Magnussen for the afternoon, the Dane adding 66 laps to the 64 the Frenchman has notched up first thing. That compared to 146 for Gasly and 72 for Stroll.
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Unsurprisingly, Williams were slowest and continued to struggle just to get out of the garage. George Russell missed the first two hours of the afternoon session before making his way out to complete 17 laps having taken over from Robert Kubica over lunch.
His best time of 1:20.997s was still over half a second faster than the Pole had managed in 48 laps in the morning, and he completed the day sporting a singularly unattractive aero rake as the team struggled to get as much data from the FW42 as possible before the chequered flag.
Testing resumes in Spain next Tuesday, for another four days on track from February 26 until March 1. The first race of the season is the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 17.
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