Hamilton fastest as Mercedes impresses again on day three

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Lewis Hamilton has continued Mercedes’ late pre-season push by finishing at the top of the timesheets on day three of the final F1 winter test in Barcelona.

The British driver put in a fastest lap time of 1:23.022 to finish two-tenths of a second clear of Williams’ Felipe Massa, who had led for most of the day after running on the super-soft tire just before lunch.

Hamilton proved once again that Mercedes is still the team to beat in 2015, beating Massa’s time despite lapping on the soft compound tire, which is thought to be 1-1.2 seconds slower than the super-soft.

After evaluating their new upgrades on the first two days of the final test in Barcelona, most teams opted to focus on both one-lap pace and race simulations on Saturday. Seven drivers completed over 100 laps, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing Ferrari’s first full race distance of the winter. The Finn ended the day third, 0.254s down on Hamilton at the top.

Mercedes’ day was not without its problems, though. The German marque was limited to just 76 laps in total after an issue on Hamilton’s car prevented the defending world champion from getting back out on track following the lunch break.

There was worse news down at McLaren, though, as Kevin Magnussen could complete just 39 laps before the team opted to end its running. The MP4-30 suffered an oil leak after lunch, bringing the McLaren reserve driver’s first stint in the 2015 car to an early end.

Sauber’s running was also curtailed when Marcus Ericsson stopped out on track in the final hour of running on Saturday. The Swede had posted a fastest lap of 1:24.477 to finish the day in fourth place, but was unable to complete his race simulation as a result of the issue.

Having only debuted the 2015 car on Friday, Nico Hulkenberg was keen to put in plenty of laps for Force India, and finished with the most mileage of any driver on Saturday. The German finished down in seventh place, but with over 150 laps on the board, the team will be hoping that some of the deficit created by the delays has been made up.

Carlos Sainz Jr. brought his winter testing programme to a close on Saturday by finishing fourth for Toro Rosso, but his hopes of a trouble-free day were ruined when his car stopped at turn three with 15 minutes remaining in the day. Max Verstappen will take over the reins of the STR10 on Sunday.

Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo both enjoyed solid days in their final runs before the first race of the year, finishing fifth and ninth respectively without suffering any stoppages or problems.

At the top though, it was Lewis Hamilton who followed in the footsteps of teammate Nico Rosberg by turning up the heat for Mercedes on Saturday and gapping the field, leaving little doubt as to where the advantage lies ahead of the new season.

Pre-season testing comes to a close on Sunday in Barcelona, with the first race taking place two weeks later in Melbourne, Australia.

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.