TopGear.com 21 February 2012

Latest from F1 testing in Barcelona

Mercedes releases its new car and Vettel goes fastest – but it’s getting closer…

Almost all the new 2012 F1 cars have now stuck their horrible beaky noses out in to the cold, and to celebrate the fact they've spent the day blasting around a chilly Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. And guess what? Red Bull still builds the quickest car... but don't despair, there is hope in the following paragraphs.

Only Marussia (used to be Virgin) and HRT have yet to reveal their new cars (‘what's that?' ‘Yeah, us neither...'). Today was the day Mercedes unveiled the W03 (below) that Nico Rosberg and - in what might be his actual, real, proper last season - Michael Schumacher will be hoping to take the fight to McLaren, Ferrari and those Red Bulls.

Leaving McLaren feeling ever more smug/anxious about NOT having a duck-bill nose (they must know the outcome already, we'll have to wait until the season kicks off in Australia on March 16), the Merc is another hammerhead. Tidy though, especially around the rear and, apparently, fairly solid. Within an hour of it taking to the track, Schumacher was posting respectable times and ended the day only eight tenths behind Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull RB8.

Considering the RB8'S already had four days of testing, we're hoping it's a sign Mercedes might be finding the pace they had when they weren't painted silver and called ‘Brawns'.

In other good news, Vettel only managed to pull out three-tenths of a second on Lewis Hamilton's McLaren MP4-27. Yes, we know that's an age in F1, but don't forget that for the last two seasons, McLaren seemed to be operating under the misconception that the F1 season didn't start until Monaco. The plan seemed to be: "let's build any old truck for the pre-season tests and we'll just keep on developing it. We're good at that." This could prove a potent new strategy: turn up in the pre-season test with a car that is already quite fast.

Ferrari's F2012 ended up just in front of Schumacher in the hands of Fernando Alonso, which won't please them much, but then again Alonso didn't appear to a man too bothered by the need to do a flying lap today. Not so Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India nor new (ish) boy Daniel Riciardo in the Torro Rosso. Respectively two and three-tenths behind Vettel, it looks like the new guard is determined 2012 won't be all about all those World Champions on the grid.

Talking of which, what news on the Iceman's comeback and, the apparent pace of his Lotus E20? Well, it wasn't his turn today. Pre-season testing regs allow only one driver a day and it was Roman Grossjean's turn. Not that it lasted long. After just seven laps he came straight back in to the pits saying there was something really not right about the just completed chassis. It's been sent back to base to be checked. Could be another long season for Lotus...

 

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