After two relatively quiet days, Circuit de Catalunya marshals found themselves rushed off their feet on the third morning of F1 pre-season running.
Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Guanyu Zhou (twice) and Sebastian Vettel all caused the session to be stopped, the Spaniard initially when his Alpine broke down. Gasly and Zhou, the first time, spun off, while Vettel had a suspected engine issue.
At the sharp end, after two days when Ferrari and McLaren had shone, Mercedes and Red Bull hit back to regain their customary places at the top of the timesheet.
The weather was cloudy and cool, the temperature barely scraping into double figures at 9am local time for the last Barcelona session on a dry track – unless the rain arrived – before it was to be artificially watered for afternoon wet-tyre testing.
All of the 10 cars were out there early, with an early main focus being a look at the white-liveried Haas – complete with plain front wing – after the red and blue of their main sponsor’s Russian branding was removed overnight following the invasion of Ukraine.
Haas with the plain white look after the Russian flag colours and the Uralkali sponsorship was removed from the VF22
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) February 25, 2022
And not just from the car either – it was also stripped off all the team’s infrastructure in the form of buildings, containers and equipment, although still appeared on driver Nikita Mazepin’s fireproofs.
The team’s troubles continued, however, as after a tricky first two days with the VF-22 from a reliability if not pace perspective, they reported a suspected leak which kept Mazepin in the garage for the vast majority of the morning.
Only 47 minutes into the session, Alonso brought out the red flags. There had already been a ‘moment’ for the Alpine driver when he ran wide into the gravel, but worse was to come for the two-time former World Champion.
His team reported on social media he had asked to “stop the car at Turn 13 due to a loss of pressure” and that was where he ground to a halt as the session was stopped.
Smoke was seen billowing from the A522, which had been on a long run on the C3 medium tyres and had clocked the fastest time of the morning just a few minutes earlier.
The session was stopped for around 18 minutes while the Alpine was brought back to the pits under wraps on a trailer, with the 40-year-old looking pretty disconsolate as marshals performed extinguishing duties on the car and he then hitched a ride back to the paddock.
“The car has been recovered to the garage where we will investigate the issue further,” said an Alpine spokesperson.
They later announced their test was over and would not be running on the wet tyres in the afternoon.
The team has successfully completed 266 laps during the three days of the Barcelona shakedown. Repairs on the car will continue, and as a result we won’t be running for the remainder of the day. We look forward to be back in action at the next test in Bahrain.#F1Testing
— BWT Alpine F1 Team (@AlpineF1Team) February 25, 2022
Williams, meanwhile, unusually opted for a mid-session driver swap with Alex Albon completing 21 laps before handing over the FW44 to Nicholas Latifi.
Max Verstappen had not lit up the timing screens, for what that is even worth at this stage, during his full day’s running on Wednesday but the World Champion set the early pace today.
That was until George Russell began to flex his muscles with Mercedes for the first time this week and leapt to P1 with a 1:19.608 on the C4 red-marked tyres.
With just under 90 minutes remaining came Gasly’s crash. He went off at Turn 5 but was “okay and back in the garage”, reported AlphaTauri, having caused the second red-flag stoppage, this hiatus lasting for 25 minutes.
But the cars had only been back out for four minutes when they had to head back in again, rookie Zhou the culprit this time as he strayed into the gravel with the camouflaged Alfa Romeo C42 after arriving too hot into Turn 10 and losing the rear end.
Another 18-minute pause ensued, but some teams were clearly keen to see how much pace they could extract and that included Mercedes as Russell went quicker still on the C5 rubber, improving by nearly four tenths.
Any hopes Verstappen et al had of deposing the Briton were disrupted when Zhou stopped again in the final sector with 20 minutes remaining.
There was meant to be an 11-minute dash to gather some last dry-circuit data, but that was scuppered when Vettel pulled over with what appeared to be an engine issue in the Aston Martin – and for those overworked marshals, their well-deserved lunch break was delayed.
1 George Russell (Mercedes) 1m19.233s, C5 – 66 laps
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1m19.756s, C3 – 58 laps
3 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) 1m19.824s, C5 – 48 laps
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1m19.831s, C3 – 44 laps
5 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) 1m20.699s, C4 – 5 laps
6 Lando Norris (McLaren) 1m20.827s, C3 – 52 laps
7 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) 1m21.242s, C3 – 12 laps
8 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) 1m21.939s, C3 – 41 laps
9 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 1m22.469s, C4 – 40 laps
10 Alex Albon (Williams) 1m22.652s, C3 – 21 laps
11 Nikita Mazepin (Haas) 1m26.229s, C3 – 9 laps
Red flags galore in Barcelona testing
It was red flag galore in the morning session in Barcelona.