Magnussen keeps McLaren on top

Rookie driver enjoys an excellent first day of Jerez running while Renault teams struggle again

The third day of running at the first F1 test of the pre-season saw McLaren record the fastest lap, while Mercedes power dominated the leaderboard and the Renault teams brought up the rear in both times and distance covered. While that was much the same as the picture from day two, one notable change was the name at the top of the leaderboard: McLaren’s rookie Kevin Magnussen demonstrated no nerves on his first outing of the year, reeling off a string of impressive runs and ultimately finishing the session on top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:23.276.

Having reached the halfway point in the test, this was changeover day for many teams, though McLaren, having missed all of day one, opted to split track time with Jenson Button driving in the morning and Magnussen in the afternoon. Elsewhere Felipe Massa had his Williams debut, while Daniel Ricciardo took his bow for Red Bull Racing. Having swapped drives in the off-season, Nico Hülkenberg appeared for Force India and Adrian Sutil for Sauber. Caterham opted to give a day to test driver Robin Frijns, Lewis Hamilton took his turn in Mercedes’ alternating schedule and Max Chilton gave the Marussia MR03 a debut. The much-increased crowd in Jerez, however, could be ascribed to Fernando Alonso taking his first turn in Ferrari’s F14T.

In the morning Felipe Massa led away when the pitlane light turned green, driving for a team other than Ferrari for the first time since 2005. The first timed lap of the day, however, was completed by Vergne, a very cautious 1m53.181s setting the benchmark half an hour into the session. That dropped swiftly as Hamilton, Massa and Alonso all took turns at the top of the timing sheet.

"Suddenly the car snapped and I went off. It’s all repairable but it will be a long night."
Adrian Sutil

A notable element of the early running was that teams seemed to be more confident in their equipment and were extending the length of their on-track stints, with Hamilton completing a 14-lap run for Mercedes. A notable exception was Red Bull, who did not appear on track in the early exchanges. Ricciardo eventually drove out of the garage a couple of minutes before noon – but his run only lasted seven corners before he parked a smoking RB10. That brought out the second red flag of the morning, Fernando Alonso having earlier stopped in the Ferrari. Jenson Button, meanwhile had continued where he left off on day two, putting together a string of fast laps and eventually finishing the morning in P1 with 1:25.030s

Four further red flags followed in the afternoon. The first caused by Hülkenberg stopping the Force India out on track, while the second was the result of Sutil spinning off track at Turn Seven and badly damaging the front end of the C33.

“To get a feeling for the tyres is quite tricky,” said Sutil later. “Towards the end of the session we did a few installation laps. On the last one the tyres lost a lot of temperature, it caught me by surprise when I accelerated out of the corner, shifting up from third to fourth on a straight line, and suddenly the car snapped and I went off. It’s all repairable but it will be a long night.”

Late on in the afternoon Vergne twice halted the Toro Rosso and caused further stoppages. His total of 30 laps was, however, by far the best from a Renault-powered car. Frijns managed 10 laps for Caterham but did not set a time. Ricciardo, had returned to the track in the morning but managed only two further laps before the RB10 succumbed to a similar issue to that which halted it yesterday.

“We worked hard yesterday to make the changes it was felt were necessary to overcome the problems we identified and we were hopeful of a more successful day today – unfortunately, the measures we took only partially solved the issue and, as with yesterday, it’s more sensible to stop and dig deeper into finding a solution,” explained Andy Damerum, Red Bull’s race engineering co-ordinator.

With 90 minutes of running left, Hamilton took Mercedes to the top of leaderboard but Magnussen was reeling off a string of solid stints in McLaren’s MP4/29 and went to the top of the order with a little over half an hour of track time remaining. Testing continues tomorrow.

2014 Jerez test day three – unofficial times

1 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:23.276 52laps
2 Felipe Massa Williams 1:23.700 +0.424 47laps
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:23.952 +0.676 62laps
4 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.030 +1.754 40laps
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.495 +2.219 58laps
6 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:26.096 +2.820 17laps
7 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:29.915 +6.639 30laps
8 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:30.161 +6.885 34laps
9 Robin Frijns Caterham No time 10laps
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull No time 3laps
11 Max Chilton Marussia No time 5laps