Rosberg quickest as Mercedes shows its hand on day two

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Nico Rosberg has sent out a warning shot to the rest of the F1 field by topping the second day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona.

The Mercedes driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:22.792 on the soft tire, smashing Felipe Massa’s best effort on the same tire on Thursday by seven-tenths of a second.

The defending world champions had been yet to finish fastest on a single day of testing in pre-season, with the team instead opting to focus on reliability after a number of problems with its old car.

However, Rosberg produced a sensational lap to finish 1.2 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas at the top of the timesheets, making clear that Mercedes is still a long way in front in 2015.

Rosberg’s day was all the more fruitful as he completed over 100 laps for Mercedes, making up for the MGU-K failure that had sidelined Lewis Hamilton on Thursday. The Briton will return to the car on Saturday before handing the reins back over to Rosberg on Sunday.

Despite finishing 1.2 seconds down on Rosberg, Bottas put in another solid, trouble-free day for Williams as the British team looks to establish itself as the best of the rest in 2015. The Finn edged out Felipe Nasr by just 0.076 seconds for P2 on the timesheets as Sauber showed signs of its early testing pace once again in Barcelona.

Having introduced a number of new parts of the final test this week, mileage was the main aim for the drivers on Friday. Sebastian Vettel put Ferrari’s upgrades through their paces, finishing fourth with 142 laps to his name. Pastor Maldonado and Max Verstappen also managed over 130 laps, although the latter’s day was cut short by an electrical issue.

Jenson Button’s testing misery came to an end in Barcelona on Friday as McLaren enjoyed its most successful day of the winter. The Briton racked up exactly 100 laps en route to fifth in the final standings, but his day was cut short when the McLaren MP4-30 came to a halt with 20 minutes remaining in the day. Nevertheless, it was a good performance by the team as it continues to get to grips with the new Honda engine.

Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat also hit trouble across the course of the day, encountering two problems on his car on Thursday with one warranting a red flag in the afternoon. The Russian managed just 77 laps in total, leaving him eighth in the final standings.

The real surprise of the day came from Force India. After a winter of uncertainty and speculation, the team finally rolled out its new car for 2015, the VJM08, just before lunch on Thursday.

In spite of a puncture on its very first lap, the car was untroubled for the rest of the day as Nico Hulkenberg completed an impressive 73 laps. The team is still a long way behind the other teams given that its car debuted some 26 days late, but the initial signs are positive with the VJM08.

At the front though, it is Rosberg and Mercedes who remain top dogs in 2015. For all of the talk about a possible tilt for the title by Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull, it is clear that the Silver Arrows were simply biding their time.

After today, there can be little doubt that Mercedes is the team to beat, and it will be hoping to make this loud and clear to the rest of the field in the final two days of testing in Barcelona.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.