Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Thursday

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The third and final pre-season F1 test got off to something of a quiet start in Barcelona today as the teams evaluated the updates that will appear on their cars in Melbourne.

In contrast to some of the running we saw in Barcelona last week, very few of the teams could be completely happy with their days. Williams’ Felipe Massa topped the timesheets and managed over 100 laps, but Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes all encountered problems on Thursday.

A problem with the MGU-K on the Mercedes W06 Hybrid limited defending world champion Lewis Hamilton to just 48 laps in total, but he made good use of them to finish third with yet another impressive time on the medium compound tire. Once again, it appears that the advantage lies with Mercedes in Barcelona.

Yet again, McLaren hit trouble in testing as the MP4-30 continued to present problems. This time, it was the power unit that was at fault, requiring a replacement after a hydraulic leak on Jenson Button’s car. Although such issues are common with a new engine, the team must be getting increasingly nervy given that it has three days of track time left before the first race of the year in Australia.

Rounding up all of today’s action in Barcelona, here’s the F1 Paddock Notebook.

SESSION REPORT

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Enter Williams?

Williams has been the dark horse of winter testing so far this year. The British team was yet to truly unleash the FW37 in anger, instead choosing to focus on pit stop practice – a weak spot in the past – and its long-run pace. Today though, Felipe Massa sent out a statement of intent by topping the timesheets on the soft tire. Although the team appears to be behind Mercedes still, it will certainly give the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari to think about as they plan for the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship this year.

Yet more trouble at McLaren

After a turbulent first test in Barcelona last week, McLaren turned up at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Thursday with renewed vigor in the hope of putting in the laps and ironing out any remaining problems with the Honda power unit. In the end, the team managed just seven laps as a hydraulic leak warranted a complete change of the engine on Jenson Button’s car, meaning that he was unable to make up for the time that he lost last week. We may have expected there to be problems at McLaren in pre-season, but few would have thought there would be quite this many. Time is ticking at Woking.

Updates aplenty, and even a paint job?

The final test in Barcelona is by far the most indicative of the pecking order as the teams apply upgrades to their cars that will remain for the first race in Australia. Mercedes sported a new sidepod design on Thursday, whilst Toro Rosso applied a new nose which received a thumbs-up from Carlos Sainz Jr. However, Ferrari went one step further and appeared to subtly change the color of its car. With most of the teams opting to focus on making sure the updates were working accordingly, there was little in the way of a battle at the top of the timesheets, making for a rather relaxed day in Barcelona.

Mercedes proves its not bulletproof

Heading into the new year, Mercedes made clear that its priority was reliability. The W05 Hybrid was by far the best car in F1 last year, and yet it failed to win three races (two due to on-car problems, with Spa being the exception). The early signs in 2015 were good as the W06 began to put in the laps on day one at Jerez, and yet today the team did hit trouble. Following in McLaren’s footsteps, Mercedes suffered an MGU-K failure of its own on Thursday, costing Lewis Hamilton his afternoon running. Although he wasn’t too downbeat, the Briton will have been disappointed to see his penultimate day of pre-season testing end in such fashion.

Setting the record straight

Following on from Fernando Alonso’s accident on Sunday, McLaren CEO Ron Dennis held a media briefing on Thursday to set the record straight. He clearly outlined the facts surrounding Alonso’s crash and quashed all rumors of a cover-up or conspiracy, confirming that the Spaniard did lose consciousness briefly during the accident but was not concussed. Although the details still remain unclear, the main thing is that Fernando is okay. Dennis expects the Spaniard to race in Australia, but time will tell on that one.

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We’ll be back tomorrow with all of the latest news, reports and features from Barcelona as pre-season testing continues.

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.