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Lotus and Kimi end on a high

Raikkonen and Lotus set the benchmark again in Spain (BBC Sport)

THE countdown to the Australian Grand Prix is now well and truly on as pre-season testing concluded this afternoon in Barcelona.  Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus ended on a high, finishing fastest and confirming the Enstone team’s threatening pace.  In this test, the team have ended up top of the timesheets at the end of three of the four days of running at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Whilst Raikkonen was overcoming his problems that affected his running yesterday, it was the turn of world champion Sebastian Vettel to have a nightmare.  Vettel could only do 23 laps and made little running on the final leaderboard, actually ending slowest.  This morning, a trip into the gravel broke the new front wing that Red Bull brought to Spain yesterday.  This afternoon, gearbox malfunctions left the German cutting a forlorn figure in the garage.  Maybe the double world champions have a bit of fallibility?  However, anyone who thinks Vettel will be slowest driver in Albert Park will need their brain to be severely tested!

RBR will be hoping it was just one bad day, but Ferrari have had frankly, a disastrous winter testing season.  Fernando Alonso may have ended up second fastest today, but technical director Pat Fry has admitted the team have “little chance of finishing on the podium in Melbourne.”  Bad vibes have been coming out of Maranello throughout the winter.  Others were in trouble today too, with Sauber packing up early due to an engine failure for Kamui Kobayashi, whilst Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov brought out the red flags after more reliability problems in the final hour of the day.

Testing always is a difficult guide to read, with different set-ups, simulations and tyre compounds to contend with.  However, it looks like McLaren and Mercedes GP have excellent race simulation and good reliability, Force India look consistent, Lotus have superb one-lap speed and durable simulation and Red Bull look as formidable as ever, but might have some questions over reliability.  Ferrari definitely have work to do, as do Caterham and certainly Marussia and HRT, the latter two not showing up to any test with their 2012 cars.

The countdown is on….

DAY 4 MELBOURNE TESTING TIMES

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1.22.030 – 121 laps

2. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1.22.250 – 115 laps

3. Bruno Senna (Williams Renault) 1.22.296 – 53 laps

4. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes) 1.22.312 – 101 laps

5. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.22.386 – 72 laps

6. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1.22.430 – 115 laps

7. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.22.795 – 101 laps

8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.22.939 – 100 laps

9. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.23.393 – 100 laps

10. Pastor Maldonado (Williams Renault) 1.23.430 – 48 laps

11. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.23.608 – 23 laps

 

Big blow for Marussia

MARUSSIA Racing have been forced to delay running their new 2012 car after failing an FIA crash test.  The team, formerly known as Virgin Racing, is understood to have failed the 18th and final part of the vigorous safety tests, to ensure that any car passing the crash regulations.  The MR01 had been due to make its bow in this week’s Barcelona pre-season test, which begins on Thursday.

This means that the team will be forced to sitout the final test, having ran a modified version of its 2011 car in Spain last week.  Consequently, it won’t make a bow before Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix.  This is dreadful news for French rookie Charles Pic, who will arrive in Albert Park with no running of the new car and next to no running, with just two days track experience under his belt.

Marussia have taken over the Virgin name, but still have similar problems (Europeanmotornews)

Marussia is a Russian sportscar marque and will be hoping to make a move away from the back of the grid that Virgin failed to do.  14th is the team’s best ever finish so far, as it enters its third season in the sport.  Fellow backmarker team HRT has also had issues with crash tests, but is believed to have passed the last test at the weekend.  The Spanish team hasn’t confirmed whether it will test this week yet.

Meanwhile, both Ferrari and Red Bull Racing have been forced to alter their testing plans.  Both teams had plan to run at the Circuit de Catalunya between Friday – Monday, but it has broken article 22.4 of the FIA sporting regulations, which forbids testing the week before the first race.  Instead, they will run like everyone else, between Thursday – Sunday, with Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso all taking it in turns to do final system runs before Australia.