Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Just when we started to think that 2015 could see the chasing pack put up some kind of challenge to Mercedes AMG Petronas, the German team decided to turn up the heat.

Nico Rosberg’s lap on the second day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona was nothing short of sensational, smashing Felipe Massa’s time from Thursday by over 0.7 seconds and appearing to end any ideas of a crusade against the Silver Arrows.

And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even a perfect lap. Rosberg had been struggling all day with the setup on his car, and although things were better come the afternoon, the German driver still felt frustrated. Essentially, it is Mercedes saying that it has time in reserve – yes, it can go even quicker.

This was in fact the first day of pre-season testing that has been topped by either Rosberg or world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton. Is it a case of Mercedes only now waking up? Not really. The team was still up towards the top of the timesheets in the earlier tests despite not completing a qualifying sim; what you saw today is what happens when it does try out its one lap pace.

Another busy day at the track, then. Here’s a complete round-up of all of the news and reports from the second day of the final pre-season test.

SESSION REPORT

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Mercedes finally starts cooking with gas

The very fact that Mercedes had not topped a single day of winter testing gave a shred of hope to the F1 community that the German team might just face a challenge this year. That shred of hope was left in tatters following Friday’s running, with Nico Rosberg setting a very impressive lap time indeed. What’s more: he wasn’t even entirely happy with it. Mercedes is the team to beat once again, and at this rate, it could well emulate its record-breaking exploits of 2014. An ominous pace indeed.

A breakthrough for McLaren

If McLaren was looking for its “eureka!” moment with the MP4-30 and Honda power unit, then Friday may just have been it. The British team enjoyed its most productive day of testing so far, completing 100 laps before Jenson Button’s car cried enough and ground to a halt with just 20 minutes left in the day. The pace that the Briton laid down was also quite good, finishing fifth with a best time of 1:25.590. McLaren may well be on the back foot heading to Melbourne, but definite progress is being made.

Force India’s first foray goes well

Talking of being on the back foot: Force India. Some 26 days after the majority of the teams rolled their cars out in Jerez for the first time, Force India finally got its new car, the VJM08, out on track. As first laps go, it wasn’t a very good one as a problem with the wheel rim caused a left-rear puncture, but Nico Hulkenberg rallied to finish the day with 77 laps to his name. Few teams are able to get their cars out of the box and pounding around the track so quickly, so it is a good sign for Force India – even if it has come about three weeks too late…

Age is just a number

Max Verstappen may only be 17 years old, but there is little doubt that he shaping up to be one of the most exciting prospects in F1 in recent years. The Dutchman enjoyed yet another successful day behind the wheel of the Toro Rosso car, looking comfortable on his laps and make good headway with the upgrades that had been applied until an electrical issue cut his day short. He is a refreshing and impressive talent that is quickly proving his doubters wrong; let us see if he can continue to do so in Melbourne next month.

Marussia’s comeback takes another step forwards

Formula 1 may have a habit of shunning and snubbing the smaller teams in recent months, but the story of Marussia’s revival is quite remarkable. After appearing to be dead and buried, the team has since come back to life and is now preparing to return at the Australian Grand Prix. Today saw the FIA confirm that it has a place on the grid in 2015 with the release of the updated entry list, meaning that all that stands between the team and a comeback is a car that complies with the 2015 technical regulations. As good news stories go, this is a big one.

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We’ll be back tomorrow in Barcelona with all of the coverage from day three of the final pre-season test.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.