Photo: Toro Rosso/Getty
It was perhaps no surprise to see Jean-Eric Vergne topping the timesheets in the world championship-winning Red Bull as the Young Driver Test got underway in Abu Dhabi…
The Frenchman looks set to follow in the footsteps of Daniel Ricciardo, who dominated last year’s test behind the wheel of the Red Bull. He carried out aerodynamic work for the team as well as trying out some prototype Pirelli tyres. He will remain in the car for the following two days.
Vergne was nine tenths clear of his compatriot Jules Bianchi, driving for Ferrari. He will also be in the car for the duration of the test.
Robert Wickens was an impressive third for Renault, albeit more than two seconds down on Vergne. The Formula Renault 3.5 champion’s pace could be down to the fact that this was his one and only day in action for the Enstone-based team, as a prize for winning the feeder series title. He also had some recent knowledge of driving an F1 car around the Yas Marina circuit, having had a run-out for Virgin last Friday.
Perhaps even more impressive was Fabio Leimer, making his debut behind the wheel of an F1 car. He set a best time just one tenth behind Wickens’. The Swiss driver once again demonstrated his ability to set very quick times in a test environment, having dominated GP2 post-season testing recently. He will hand over to the team’s reserve and GP2 rival Esteban Gutierrez for the remaining two days.
Gary Paffett was fifth for McLaren, having taken over from Oliver Turvey for the afternoon. Turvey, without a full-time drive in GP2 this year due to a lack of funds, was eighth fastest.
Another Briton, Max Chilton, was just behind Paffett in sixth. Driving for Force India, this was his first proper test in an F1 car after performing a straightline test for them earlier in the year. He will return to the cockpit on Thursday, after Johnny Cecotto Jr has had a go tomorrow.
Just a tenth behind Chilton was Valtteri Bottas for Williams. Again, it was the GP3 champion’s first F1 drive on a proper circuit. He will get another go tomorrow, before rushing off to the Macau Grand Prix and leaving F2 champion Mirko Bortolotti to do the final day of the test.
Sam Bird was a somewhat lowly ninth for Mercedes, with a transmission issue costing him some running. He will run for the remaining two days, with the team keen to focus on car development for 2012.
Rodolfo Gonzalez was a strong tenth for Lotus, returning after testing for the team last year. He was able to give the team an idea of its progress in the last 12 months. Incidentally, Gonzalez only managed to finish in the top ten three times in GP2 in 2011. Luiz Razia will drive the car tomorrow, with Alexander Rossi in on Thursday.
Making his F1 debut for Toro Rosso was Stefano Coletti, surprsingly winding up slower than Gonzalez. The Monegasque GP2 winner will be back in the car on Thursday morning though, where he will probably be able to show what he is capable of. Fellow GP2 racer Kevin Ceccon will drive tomorrow.
Dani Clos was next up for HRT, just half a tenth behind the Toro Rosso. The Spanish team announced today that Jan Charouz will drive for them tomorrow morning, before Nathanael Berthon completes the test.
Virgin drivers rounded out the timesheets, with Charles Pic ahead of Adrian Quaife-Hobbs. Pic ran in the afternoon, familiarising himself ahead of a full day in the car tomorrow. Rumours continue to intesify that Pic has already signed to race for the team next year. Quaife-Hobbs got his first proper F1 test in the morning, as a prize for his GP3 performances this year.
1. Jean-Eric Vergne, Red Bull , 1:40.011
2. Jules Bianchi, Ferrari, 1:40.960
3. Robert Wickens, Renault, 1:42.217
4. Fabio Leimer, Sauber, 1:42.331
5. Gary Paffett, McLaren, 1:42.912
6. Max Chilton, Force India, 1:43.016
7. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1:43.118
8. Oliver Turvey, McLaren, 1:43.502
9. Sam Bird, Mercedes, 1:43.548
10. Rodolfo Gonzalez, Lotus, 1:44.022
11. Stefano Coletti, Toro Rosso, 1:45.278
12. Dani Clos, HRT, 1:45.329
13. Charles Pic, Virgin, 1:46.930
14. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, Virgin, 1:47.292