Button quickest as first test gets underway in Jerez

McLaren driver puts early stoppage behind him to head timesheet as Mercedes are sidelined by electrical problems.

Jenson Button recovered from problems with his McLaren MP4-28 in the morning to set the day’s fastest time as the first test ahead of the 2013 Formula One season got underway in Jerez.

The 2009 champion had completed just three laps when he stopped with a fuel-pump problem, which sidelined him for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon, however, he recovered to set a table-topping time of 1:18.861 on Pirelli’s new hard compound tyre.

"It was actually like a normal Friday practice session in some regards. No dramas, we did some good laps."
Mark Webber

There were no such reliability issues for Red Mark Webber. The Australian completed 73 laps at the wheel of the new RB9 and afterwards said the day’s work had felt like a normal Friday practice session at a grand prix.

“As Adrian said at the launch there haven’t been big changes to the regulations this year and this car is an evolution of the car we finished with last season, so really, there were no big surprises today,” he said. “It was actually like a normal Friday practice session in some regards. No dramas, we did some good laps, we started understanding the tyres – so a lot of positives.”

The team’s Race Engineering Co-Ordinator Andy Damerum added that the session was a big improvement from the same time last year. “If I recall, this time last year we couldn’t run in the morning because of fog, so this first day with the RB9 has been good. We had very few problems and Mark managed to get through just over 323km of running. We were able to get through about 90 per cent of what was on the list for today.”

Third-placed Romain Grosjean was quickest in the morning but the Frenchman encountered several problems during the day, with his new Lotus E21 stuck in the garage for longer than expected. The delays meant his early efforts were comfortably eclipsed by those of Webber and Button later in the day. Like Webber, though, Grosjean was left with the impression of picking up where Lotus left off in Brazil last year.

“It feels very similar to the E20 from behind the wheel, even if it does look different from the outside,” he said. “We spent a little bit more time than ideal in the garage today, but that’s normal in testing. We now have a good idea of the new tyres and we’ll have some challenges from them; the grip level is there but performance does fall away with graining.”

While Button and Grosjean suffered temporary frustrations with their new cars, Nico Rosberg’s car problems proved terminal. The German had completed just 11 laps in his new Mercedes W04 when an electrical problem caused him to stop and a small fire broke out at the back of the car, a blaze the team blamed on unburned fuel in the exhausts igniting.

With the team choosing to modify the car, Rosberg was sidelined for the rest of the day. Lewis Hamilton will pick up testing the new Mercedes in the morning.

“At this time of year all you want to do is spend time in the car and get a feeling for how it's working, but these hiccups are just part of the game,” he said. “During the laps I completed this morning, I had a good feeling with the car and it felt solid.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth in Toro Rosso’s STR8 and lauded the new car’s trouble-free running.

“The main thing is that the car was reliable, which is a positive aspect and we got through our work schedule for the day,” he said. “You cannot look at car performance on the first day, when reliability and comfort are more important and, on that front, my seat and driving position were good. So this was a day of tasks that were relatively simple, but also important.”

Elsewhere, Ferrari’s F138 made its debut at the hands of Felipe Massa and after clocking the day’s sixth-fastest time of 1:20,536, the Brazilian told Sky Sports News that the car is a world away from last season’s F2012.

"I would say the difference compared to last year is huge, it is on a different planet," he said. "This year is much more balanced and I felt a good direction from the rear of the car as well.”

With Massa sixth, seventh place went to Nico Hulkenberg on his first outing in the Sauber C32. Rosberg was eighth after his 11 laps, while Pastor Maldonado ended the day ninth in a 2012-spec Williams. Tenth place went to Caterham’s new signing Giedo van der Garde.

The last name on the timesheet was that of Marussia new boy Max Chilton. The Briton’s had a difficult day, with a rear supension failure sending his MR02 crashing out. He emerged from the crash unscathed.