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

Brown: Dennis would have made same decision on McLaren-Honda split

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Zak Brown believes former McLaren team boss Ron Dennis would have made the same decision to cut ties with struggling Formula 1 engine partner Honda had he still been in charge at the team in 2017.

McLaren executive director Brown helped engineer a deal for the team to split with Honda at the end of the 2017 season after three tough seasons that had seen the Japanese manufacturer offer little in the way of performance or reliability.

The decision split opinion, with McLaren spurning a significant annual financial injection from Honda in order to link up with Renault, believing its on-track fortunes had to be prioritized over its commercial interests.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Brown was asked if he believed Dennis – McLaren’s long-running team chief before stepping down at the end of 2016 – would have made the same decision to cut ties with Honda.

“I think he would have,” Brown said.

“He was here when those conversations were ongoing and I think Ron always has and always will have the best interests of McLaren in his heart.

“He is Mr. McLaren. It burns him inside as much as us not to see us winning races.”

Brown also elaborated on the decision to break off the much-lauded relationship with Honda, saying the first signs of trouble with the 2017 power unit were clear in pre-season.

After a number of attempts to try and rectify the situation, Brown and his fellow team bosses felt there was no alternative but to end the Honda deal for 2018.

“We knew we were in trouble in testing in Barcelona and we worked really hard for six months to try and find solutions that would give us confidence that we’d be much more competitive in 2018,” Brown said.

“Ultimately, after trying many different things and many different ways we felt we couldn’t get there.

“Three years is a long time in Formula 1 and so we needed to change the direction to get our team back at the top.”