Vettel raises bar in Barcelona F1 pre-season testing

Sebastian Vettel makes a pit stop for new tyres during day three of F1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya

The four-time champion smashed Daniel Ricciardo's lap time from Wednesday by almost a whole second as Ferrari showed their impressive hand with just one full day of practice remaining.

For the first time this week Sebastian Vettel went out on a performance run in his new Ferrari and used Pirelli's hyper-soft qualifying tyres to set a 1:17.182, just ahead of the lunch break. Bottas apparently focused on track time over speed during the morning, recording a session high of 95 laps.

The first four days of testing were hampered by bad weather and cold temperatures in Barcelona, keeping teams from making quality runs on a track that lacked enough grip and didn't reproduce the conditions expected during the season.

"It's just a time". That's important in understanding the vehicle.

"We understood it a little bit better".

A fairer comparison - although still imperfect - was over race distances, which all three big teams completed at different times of the day.

After reliability issues on the two previous days this week, McLaren racked up an impressive 146 laps on Thursday. He was 0.315s slower than the Haas after completing a similar style of run alternating between quick laps and cool-down laps.

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas were in eighth and ninth places respectively with 1:19.296 and 1:19.532.

It was, for once, a day nearly uninterrupted, apart from Marcus Ericsson's brief trip in the gravel, which caused the red flag to come out just as McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne was completing a proper race simulation run.

It is hard to read into headline times at pre-season testing given there are too many unknown variables, such as fuel loads, however the more laps teams can do, the better they can understand their new cars ahead of the new season.

Danish driver Kevin Magnussen was second fastest on supersoft tyres with a time of 1:18.360 while France's Pierre Gasly was third on the timesheets in the Honda-powered Toro Rosso and completed an impressive 169 laps. Hamilton will be back on track in the morning for his final stint in the vehicle before Melbourne.

A similar state of affairs prevailed at Red Bull, with Max Verstappen running well behind in terms of performance as he trialed and tested various settings on the RB14. The two combined notched up 139 laps combined and were split by 0.6s at the end of the day.

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