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Bottas debuts, McLaren and Red Bull struggle in F1 testing

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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Valtteri Bottas impressed in his debut drive for world champion Mercedes on Monday as the new Formula One pre-season got under way.

Bottas outworked the rest of the field with 79 laps during the morning session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. That total surpasses the 66 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix held at the same venue each season.

The 27-year-old Finn also owned the fastest time until Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel bettered Bottas’ best effort by 0.378 seconds.

Bottas, formerly of Williams, inherited the driver’s seat at Mercedes from world champion Nico Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title.

Bottas’ teammate and three-time former champion Lewis Hamilton will take over driving for the Silver Arrows during Monday’s afternoon session.

While Bottas and Vettel took turns churning out the laps under sunny and dry conditions, McLaren and Red Bull endured inauspicious starts to the new campaign.

Fernando Alonso’s McLaren was stuck in the garage following a sole trip around the track as its technicians reportedly tried to repair an oil-related problem with its Honda motor.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo didn’t do much better, getting through just four laps before his new RB13 car ground to a halt near Turn 4 because of what the team called “a sensor issue.” The stranded Australian was ferried back to the boxes under a red flag.

Neither Ricciardo nor Alonso got back behind the wheel before the end of the four-hour opening session.

The opening test will continue later Monday and run through Thursday.

Teams are trying out their cars after a rulebook overhaul produced new aerodynamic and tire regulations. The designs have led to wider vehicles, which increases downforce and grip with the goal of boosting speeds.

Mercedes’ rivals are hoping the changes will help them make up ground on a team that has won 51 of the last 59 races en route to three consecutive driver and constructor titles.

To compare with times on the same track from last year, Vettel’s fastest effort of 1 minute, 22.791 seconds on Monday marks an improvement on his own leading time of 1:22.810 he set over the four days of last year’s opening test.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 26.

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.”