Mark Webber gave a hint of Red Bull's pace as he set the fastest time on the first day of the final winter test at Barcelona – although he was only elevated to the top when a late time from Sergio Perez was deleted for chicane-jumping.
Webber's 1m22.544sec was faster than anyone managed in last month's Catalunya test, and it came on a qualifying-style, single-lap run this morning. He followed it up with another lap just one tenth slower shortly afterward, having previously lapped in 1m23sec on a five-lap stint. For the afternoon, Webber switched to slightly longer runs, doing stints of 10, 13 and 17 laps that tended to start in the 1m27sec/1m28sec region before getting up to 1m30sec to 1m32sec as the tires wore.
In the final few minutes of the session, it looked like Webber had been deposed by a shock time from Sauber driver Perez. But the Mexican's 1m21.176sec included a suspect final sector time two seconds quicker than the opposition and was subsequently deleted. He remained fourth, though, having spent most of the session in the top five on a day of generally short runs briefly interrupted by an oil leak.
Jenson Button gave McLaren a lift with the second-fastest time. In the morning it looked like the team had to abandon a race simulation, with Button pitting shortly after being shown a pit board that indicated he would be running for a further 50 laps. But he showed encouraging pace when back on the circuit, doing two 1m22.9sec laps on qualifying-style runs to put himself 0.366sec behind Webber in the end-of-day times. On subsequent six to seven lap stints the McLaren's pace was generally in the 1m29sec, while the start of its race simulation had seen times drifting from 1m30sec to 1m34sec.
McLaren had earlier prompted plenty of discussion when Button's car ran with a bizarre bulge from its nose section. This was a measuring device being used to assist with future front wing development, rather than an odd technical innovation.
Renault held third and fifth positions, Vitaly Petrov having taken over from Nick Heidfeld when the German called a halt to his day due to a cold near the end of the morning. Heidfeld's best morning time still held for third until Perez and Petrov made big improvements in the last 10 minutes of the session.
Force India also split its running between two drivers, though its midday switch was scheduled. Nico Hulkenberg had his first taste of the 2011 car in the morning, his best time leaving him ninth in the end, before handing over to Paul di Resta for the afternoon. The Scot took sixth.
AirAsia GP2 drivers Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia were given a chance to drive for parent team Lotus today. Valsecchi had the morning session and briefly took third place with a late lap, before putting the car in the gravel and causing a red flag. He was pushed down to seventh in the end, with Razia, who also prompted a red flag with just a few seconds of the test remaining when he stopped on track, going 10th fastest.
The first red flag of the day was down to Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso, which missed several hours of running after grinding to a halt on the pits straight. The Swiss driver got up to 48 laps in the end with a busy afternoon, taking eighth.
With Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and Hispania not out until tomorrow, Virgin's Jerome D'Ambrosio was the only other driver in action. The team seemed to be concentrating on a variety of assessments rather than outright pace, and though its rookie driver covered 57 laps, he did not set a competitive flying lap and was often in and out of the pits repeatedly.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps
1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m22.544s 97
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m22.910s + 0.366 74
3. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.937s + 0.393 27
4. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.117s + 1.573 90
5. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m24.735s + 2.191 20
6. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m25.039s + 2.495 38
7. Davide Valsecchi Lotus-Renault 1m25.406s + 2.862 50
8. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.004s + 3.460 48
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m26.030s + 3.486 31
10. Luiz Razia Lotus-Renault 1m26.723s + 4.179 29
11. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m32.060s + 9.516 57