The 2012 Formula 1 winter testing schedule offered teams an unusual one-week break between the opening sessions at Jerez and action resuming at Barcelona, giving an opportunity for those who had troubled starts to work hard back at base before hitting the track again, but also giving those who shone at Jerez plenty of time to process their data and make further gains.
A chilly week at Barcelona's Catalunya circuit therefore began to give us a clearer picture of where the field stands and how the picture is changing as the season opener in Melbourne approaches.
World Champion Sebastian Vettel commenced the week in ominous form with the fastest time for Red Bull on Tuesday, although it was a relatively close fight at the front of the field, with 0.353sec covering the top four cars.
Whereas Jerez had tended to see each day's best time set very early then never beaten, Tuesday's pattern of a morning of close competition and top-spot swapping followed by a slow afternoon set the tone for the Catalunya week. Vettel jumped to the top with his 1m23.265s shortly before midday, deposing compatriot Nico Hulkenberg's Force India by 0.175sec.
But the biggest news was not who was fastest, but who was already heading home. Romain Grosjean reported "strange" feelings from his Lotus and parked after just seven laps. A major chassis problem – seemingly related to the front suspension – was discovered, and the team packed up not only for the day, but for the rest of the week.
That overshadowed the unveiling of the new Mercedes W03, the last potential 2012 front runner to break cover. The new car was sixth on its first public appearance, with Michael Schumacher doing the honors.
Also making a 2012 debut was Marussia, albeit with a 2011 Virgin for rookie Charles Pic to build up mileage and experience in. The GP2 graduate covered a mammoth 121 laps.
Lewis Hamilton was also busy as he completed 114 laps and went third quickest for McLaren, followed by Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso and Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
A track-rod problem left Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham parked across the circuit in the morning, but it was resolved in time for him to get a little more running at the end of the day.
After narrowly missing out on the Tuesday top spot, Hulkenberg established himself at the head of the order on Wednesday as one of several drivers to try Pirelli's super-softs. Sergio Perez did likewise for Sauber and lapped within 0.04sec of Hulkenberg's 1m22.608s. But Vettel was again at the forefront, setting the soft-tire pace with a time 0.283sec off the Force India.
Ricciardo and Alonso again completed the top five, ahead of Hamilton. The McLaren driver and Vettel carried out intriguing long runs at the same time, giving a hint of their potential race pace, and appearing evenly matched.
Williams gave reserve driver Valtteri Bottas a full day in the car and a chance to simulate his grand prix Friday programs. The Finn was eighth quickest.
There was also a new face at Caterham, as Vitaly Petrov made his debut for his new employer and settled in with the ninth-quickest time.
Another super-soft run grabbed the top spot, this time courtesy of Williams man Pastor Maldonado. Given that Williams had not looked like a pacesetter so far, this could have been dismissed as low-fuel showboating, but Maldonado was adamant that the FW34 was showing genuinely encouraging signs.
Schumacher took second place for Mercedes, nearly a second off the Williams, having completed an impressive 127 laps – including a 59-lap run punctuated only by tire changes. Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, McLaren's Jenson Button and Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne were next up.
The fastest time of the week came on the final morning – and on softs rather than super-softs. Kobayashi lapped in 1m22.312s for Sauber, then got within 0.006sec of that mark on super-softs, too.
Maldonado continued to produce encouraging pace for Williams in a close second place, followed by Force India's Paul di Resta, who caused a morning red flag by slewing into the gravel at Campsa.
As well as going quickest, Kobayashi also had the honor of the greatest lap tally, as he completed 145 circuits of Catalunya.
Only nine cars took part in the final day. With Lotus already long since departed and HRT still not ready, Marussia caused numbers to dwindle further when a suspension issue on Pic's 2011 Virgin meant it could not take part in the Friday running.
Pos Driver Team Best time Total laps
1. Kobayashi Sauber 1m22.312s 244
2. Maldonado Williams 1m22.391s + 0.079s 240
3. Hulkenberg Force India 1m22.608s + 0.296s 209
4. Perez Sauber 1m22.648s + 0.336s 151
5. Vettel Red Bull 1m22.891s + 0.579s 183
6. Di Resta Force India 1m23.119s + 0.807s 184
7. Alonso Ferrari 1m23.180s + 0.868s 162
8. Button McLaren 1m23.200s + 0.888s 229
9. Schumacher Mercedes 1m23.384s + 1.072s 178
10. Massa Ferrari 1m23.563s + 1.251s 187
11. Hamilton McLaren 1m23.590s + 1.278s 234
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.618s + 1.306s 126
13. Webber Red Bull 1m23.774s + 1.462s 182
14. Vergne Toro Rosso 1m23.792s + 1.480s 170
15. Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.843s + 1.531s 221
16. Senna Williams 1m25.711s + 3.399s 97
17. Bottas Williams 1m25.738s + 3.426s 117
18. Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.035s + 3.723s 101
19. Glock Marussia 1m26.173s + 3.861s 108
20. Petrov Caterham 1m26.448s + 4.136s 139
21. Grosjean Lotus 1m26.809s + 4.497s 7
22. Pic Marussia 1m27.343s + 5.031s 229