Hamilton plants Mercedes' challenge with quickest time

© AP, 2 March 2013
© AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

Lewis Hamilton clocked the fastest lap of the entire Formula 1 pre-season Saturday in his new Mercedes, then quickly brushed off talk of being an early favourite for the upcoming season. [PHOTOS]

This was Hamilton's last day of testing as he will hand over the wheel to teammate Nico Rosberg on Sunday, and his impressive lap was the quickest so far of any driver in the run-up to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton took advantage of the first blue skies and dry track this week at the Catalunya Circuit by putting in a flying lap of 1 minute, 20.558 seconds on soft tyres designed for speed before doing longer runs after the lunch break.

"Whilst we've been focusing on our own performance, we definitely haven't seen the full potential of our competitors yet, so it's difficult to predict where we might be," said Hamilton, the 2008 champion.

Hamilton left McLaren at the end of last season to replace German great Michael Schumacher at Mercedes.

"It was great to have a dry track today for my final day of testing, and we were able to get through all the test items that we wanted to achieve by the end of my program," he said.

Felipe Massa had the second best effort in his Ferrari, seven-tenths slower than Hamilton, followed by Adrian Sutil in his return to Force India. Massa provoked a late red flag when his car lost a tyre just after he had his fastest spin around the circuit.

Williams duo Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas came next in front of Red Bull's Mark Webber, who had some mechanical trouble early.

Mark Webber was also hesitant to name front-runners for the new season. Last season saw unprecedented parity with seven different winners in the first seven races, before Red Bull proved dominant over the second half.

"In terms of the overall feeling at the end of my spell of testing, I think we've done well and we have made a step forward," Webber said. "As I've said before it's very difficult to see a real pecking order. We've just always been focused on what we have to do and not really looked too hard at anyone else."

The day featured one surprise change in the line-up as Lotus' Romain Grosjean made an about face and flew back from Paris to drive instead of the sick Kimi Raikkonen.

Having set the pace on Friday, Grosjean took over for reserve driver Davide Valsecchi after making it back around midday and finished with the session's tenth quickest lap.

Jules Bianchi debuted for Marussia after signing with the team on Friday to replace Luiz Razia. The rookie put in the 12th fastest time, ahead of Caterham's Giedo van der Garde at the bottom of the time sheet.

Long-awaited good weather meant several drivers got in long runs and were well over 100 laps on the day. Van der Garde was the busiest pilot with 126 completed, ahead of Hamilton with 117 and Jean-Eric Vergne with 114 in his Toro Rosso.

World champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and McLaren's Jenson Button all return to the track on Sunday for one more day of final adjustments before the season opens at Melbourne on March 17.

Pos. Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m 20.558s - 117
2 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m 21.226s +0.708s 94
3 Adrian Sutil Force India 1m 21.627s +1.069 109
4 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m 22.305s +1.747s 34
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m 22.468s +1.910s 31
6 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m 22.553s +1.995s 99
7 Mark Webber Red Bull 1m 22.658s +2.100s 59
8 Sergio Perez McLaren 1m 22.694s +2.136s 101
9 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m 23.223s +2.665s 114
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m 23.380s +2.822s 46
11 Davide Valsecchi Lotus 1m 23.448s +2.890s 16
12 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m 24.028s +3.470s 74
13 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m 24.235s +3.677s 126


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