Nico Hulkenberg put Force India on top of the timesheets on the second morning of preseason testing at Barcelona, setting the fastest time of the week so far at the Catalan circuit.
Tire compounds proved decisive as the conditions improved on a morning also notable for the absence of Lotus, which elected to abandon the test after discovering chassis problems on the opening day.
Hulkenberg had been near the front for the majority of the session, but he moved well clear in the final 30 minutes when he switched to Pirelli's super-soft compound and clocked a 1m22.608s. Sauber's Sergio Perez – who had likewise run at the sharp end of the field and then elected to try the super-softs – got to within four hundredths of Hulkenberg's best, but couldn't do enough to displace him.
For much of the morning it had been Hulkenberg's compatriot Sebastian Vettel who had set the pace, with the Red Bull RB8 proving especially strong in the final two sectors. At one stage, Vettel was more than 1.3sec clear of the field as he repeatedly lowered his benchmark, eventually dropping down to a 1m23.056s – more than two tenths faster than he managed yesterday.
Hulkenberg and Perez both closed on his benchmark as the midday interlude approached, before usurping him when they switched to the red-marked Pirelli compound. Vettel did manage a late rally, getting to within three tenths of Hulkenberg in the final five minutes while using the soft compound. He completed the fewest laps of any driver, however, managing just 31 – less than half Hulkenberg's total.
Fourth was claimed by Daniel Ricciardo, who also set his best time – a 1m23.639s – on super-softs. The Australian's late lap demoted Fernando Alonso to fifth, the Spaniard just one thousandth of a second down the road. Alonso had been the pace setter with a string of mid 1m24s in the opening hour, before Vettel and then Hulkenberg took charge at the top.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were the last two drivers to get within two seconds of Hulkenberg, Hamilton finishing 1.4sec down and Rosberg a further half a second down the road. Hamilton set his fastest time early in the morning, after which he completed only four flying laps. Rosberg, meanwhile, completed several long runs in his first public day in the Mercedes W03, including an 18-lap run with an average of 1m27.208s at the session's close.
Valtteri Bottas, who will participate in 15 Friday practices for Williams this year, put the FW34 eighth ahead of Vitaly Petrov's Caterham and Charles Pic in the 2011-spec Marussia.
Petrov's first day in the Caterham included work on his seating position and cockpit setup, but he still managed 36 laps with a best of 1m26.605s.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Hulkenberg Force India 1m22.608s 63
2. Perez Sauber 1m22.648s +0.040 51
3. Vettel Red Bull 1m22.891s +0.283 31
4. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.639s +1.031 45
5. Alonso Ferrari 1m23.640s +1.032 52
6. Hamilton McLaren 1m24.040s +1.432 45
7. Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.555s +1.947 75
8. Bottas Williams 1m25.858s +3.250 69
9. Petrov Caterham 1m26.605s +3.997 36
10. Pic Marussia 1m28.092s +5.484 47
All timing unofficial