Hamilton flies on penultimate day of final test

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Lewis Hamilton topped the penultimate of Formula One testing at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

The time recorded by the Mercedes driver was the quickest so far at the circuit over the seven days of testing, causing many to question Hamilton’s skepticism for the season ahead.

Hamilton’s time of 1:20.558 was over seven tenths quicker than second placed Felipe Massa. Ferrari will be pleased with the progress made today following their focus on race simulations on Friday, but the gap to Mercedes will undoubtedly cause alarm bells to ring.

Massa had a car failure late on in the day when one of his wheels came off heading into turn ten, bringing out one of three red flags in Barcelona. Davide Valsecchi, deputizing for a sick Kimi Raikkonen, also suffered a stoppage out on the track just before lunch, with Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham similarly halting proceedings in the morning session.

Continuing his good form in third place was Adrian Sutil, answering many critics who believed he would not be competitive following a year out. In fourth and fifth were the two Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, who shared the running today, and a close sixth was Esteban Gutierrez for Sauber.

Mark Webber failed to live up to Red Bull’s expectations, finishing over two seconds off Hamilton down in seventh. Sergio Perez will be just as disappointed to have finished eighth in his McLaren, and Toro Rosso’s good testing form failed to continue as Jean-Eric Vergne could only manage P9.

Despite bringing out the red flag, Valsecchi showed good pace in the Lotus to finish eleventh, just 0.068 seconds behind the team’s full time driver Romain Grosjean.

Jules Bianchi had a good debut for Marussia as the Anglo-Russian team once again edged out Caterham, finishing two tenths ahead of Giedo van der Garde.

Mercedes will hope to repeat their good form on the final day of pre-season testing tomorrow, but with Vettel, Button and Alonso all having one final run, Hamilton’s time is bound to come under threat. The team will however be encouraged by their testing pace.

Unofficial Times

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.558
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.266 +0.708
3. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:21.627 +1.069
4. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.305 +1.747
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:22.468 +1.910
6. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:22.553 +1.995
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:22.658 +2.100
8. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:22.694 +2.136
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:23.223 +2.665
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:23.380 +2.822
11. David Valsecchi Lotus 1:23.448 +2.890
12. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.028 +3.470
13. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:24.235 +3.677

Kubica, di Resta complete Williams F1 tests in Hungary

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Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta have both completed one-day tests for Williams in a 2014-spec Formula 1 car as part of the team’s evaluation for its 2018 line-up.

Williams is known to be considering a number of drivers to partner Lance Stroll at the team next year, including existing racer Felipe Massa.

Massa is thought to be going up against Kubica and di Resta for the 2018 drive, with the latter duo taking part in a private test at the Hungaroring in Budapest this week to aid the team’s evaluation.

After missing out on a 2018 Renault drive due to lingering questions about his physical condition six years after his rally accident, Kubica tested for Williams at Silverstone last week before getting back behind the wheel of the 2014 FW36 car in Hungary on Tuesday.

Kubica’s test was called “productive” by Williams, with the Pole handing duties over to Mercedes DTM racer di Resta on Wednesday.

Di Resta raced in F1 with Force India between 2010 and 2013 before returning to DTM, but made a surprise return at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix with Williams when Massa was taken ill. Di Resta impressed on short notice, putting himself in contention for a full-time return to F1 in 2018.

Williams has one of the few remaining seats on offer in F1 for 2018, with Massa’s future known to be in question after a quiet campaign thus far.

The Brazilian had been due to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Williams to recall him after Valtteri Bottas’ late move up to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Massa has made clear he would like to keep racing in F1 next year, but only if the deal is right and if Williams is determined to keep him.

While Massa, Kubica and di Resta appear to be the three leading contenders for the seat, Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe made clear in Japan there was a “large range” of drivers under consideration.

“You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at, but honestly, the range is almost unlimited,” Lowe said.

“We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so, and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.”