As the second day of the second test drew to a close, the moment marked the halfway point in pre-season testing – for some teams, this will be more positive news than for others. Mercedes were once again putting the W06 through its paces, with Nico Rosberg at the helm this morning and a resurgent Lewis Hamilton taking the reigns this afternoon, as the team look to manage their driver’s winter ailments. Meanwhile, Red Bull enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough day, as did McLaren – The sixth day of testing has probably provided the cheeriest post-session paddock of the winter so far.
A brief glace at the above graph tells the story of today – unlike yesterday, where seals, crashes and musician chairs disrupted running and distorted the mileage achievements, today proceeded without too much incident. Daniel Ricciardo obtained the accolade of Mr.Mileage, with 143 laps. In the context of Red Bull’s pre-season so far, this was a breakthrough total for them in what was their breakthrough day. Finishing top of the timesheet was our first glimpse of RB11’s pace and while this is largely an academic achievement, the 66 lap race simulation completed by Ricciardo this afternoon suggests that Red Bull are confident that technical gremlins have been eradicated. A spin from Sainz did disrupt Ricciardo’s run, but Red Bull will have gathered all the data that they needed from this particular programme. With Kvyat in the car for the next two days, I expect the Milton Keynes squad to continue to record sizable mileage.
The lunchtime chatter centered around Lewis Hamilton’s unexpected return to the car. The Brit managed just 11 laps in the car yesterday due to suffering from a fever. However, Mercedes headed into today needing to manage the health of both race drivers, with Rosberg feeling discomfort due to a trapped nerve in his neck. It seems that with Lewis on the mend, the team decided that giving Nico a rest this afternoon would allow his neck time to recover before his scheduled programme in the W06 on Sunday.
The decision to allow Hamilton an afternoon in the car today has reduced the disparity between the miles covered by the drivers. As the above graphic shows, Rosberg had a clear advantage over Hamilton heading into this test, yet with his 100 laps across the course of the last two days, Lewis has gained 34 laps back on his teammate. He still faces an experience deficit in the W06 compared with his counterpart, but this afternoon was important for Lewis to keep up to speed this pre-season.
In a day with limited talking points, McLaren were headline makers – this time, for the right reasons. They may have clocked the fewest lap of any team once again, but Fernando Alonso managed to guide the MP4-30 past a half-century of laps for the first time. Eric Boullier may have alluded to the team having covered just half of their planned number of laps across the past six days of running, but day six has offered yet more hope for greater totals this weekend and in next week’s final test.