Schumi shines but RB8 is bullish

Mercedes on top - but only in last year's car

Last Updated: 08/02/12 6:35pm

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Michael Schumacher rolled back the years to set the pace on Day Two at Jerez but it was Red Bull's RB8 which took the honours as the fastest of this year's chargers.

Both the day's fastest and second-longest-running driver, Schumacher, who recorded a tally of 132 laps that was only bettered by Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen, was ostensibly the star of the show as testing continued under the pleasant but cooler blue skies of Southern Spain.

However, with Schumacher driving a 2011-spec Mercedes - which included a blown diffuser - it's fair to treat his times as the F1 equivalent of a red herring. The new Mercedes will only break cover in Barcelona for the second test and it's understood that the team have hitherto been reluctant to run many - or possibly even any - new parts for fear of corrupting this week's data feed.

As such, Red Bull can be considered to have 'won' the day, with Mark Webber setting the fastest time of any 2012 runner. After a subdued first appearance on Tuesday, the RB8 was quick to show its teeth on Wednesday, with Webber dipping below the 1min20sec mark in the first hour of the day. Though team boss Christian Horner was later at pains to insist that nothing should be read into testing times at this stage, Red Bull's rivals are likely to consider the first glimpse of their new charger's comparative speed an ominous warning. Webber's best-of-the-day lap time of 1:19.184 was both considerably faster than that set by pacesetter Kimi Raikkonen twenty-four hours earlier and fourth-tenths quicker than any other 2012 runner on Day Two.

Behind Webber, the stylish Toro Rosso once again impressed, with Daniel Ricciardo following up his fourth-placed finish at the close of play on Day One with the third fastest time of Wednesday. It's very early days, but the STR7 is already hinting that it could prove the surprise package of the year.

For Force India, newcomer Jules Bianchi enjoyed a positive debut, with the team's third driver recording 46 laps on his way to fourth in the timesheets and a placement above Paul di Resta who ran for the team in the morning. On a not-entirely-incidental note, it says plenty about just how seriously the team take the role of third driver that Bianchi has already seen track action this year, with Di Resta's racing team-mate Nico Hulkenberg yet to drive the team's new charger.

Meanwhile, Raikkonen had a mixed day, with the Finn completing just six laps before midday after damaging his Lotus during an off-track excursion. Yet, perhaps tellingly, the former World Champion ended the day with an impressively-consistent set of lap times: 1:24.614, 1:24.676, 1:24.624, 1:25.921, 1:25.081, 1:25.014. With all due respect to the usual caveats about reading anything into testing, it's been a very encouraging couple of days for the returning Raikkonen.

On Thursday, the Finn will hand over driving duties to Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean as part of a comprehensive overhaul of driving personnel. Among those also making their first appearances of the winter will be Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

To date, both McLaren and Ferrari have been relatively subdued, with neither Jenson Button nor Felipe Massa featuring among the lead frontrunners on either day. They ended the day side-by-side in the timesheets, a modest eighth and seventh respectively.

A late 'racey' push from Massa failed to extract any eye-catching lap times from the F2012, although Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz has warned against making any sort of judgement about the new Ferrari just yet.

"The thing to remember about Ferrari is that this is a revolutionary car for them. It's taken them in a direction away from the direction they'd taken in the last few years and with such aggressive concepts as the pullrod suspension and the very tight aero packaging, the team say they have a lot to learn and understand about the new car," Ted reported.

"As the chief designer Nick Tombazis said yesterday, from the data they've been gathering so far, they understand most things about the car. There are some things they don't understand. Because of this, they are going to continue with their data acquisition and correlation runs - potentially for the remainder of the test. So it's possible we will not see any performance work from Ferrari, even when Fernando Alonso steps into the car for Thursday and Friday.

"The team tell us they're not even looking at Webber's 1:19.1s and at present they don't know if they can match it, because that's not the focus of their work. That's reassuring for Ferrari fans, but I'm sure the drivers will be anxious to know where they stand in terms of pace as soon as possible."

Likewise, it's reasonable to presume that McLaren are not yet concerning themselves with setting quick lap times given that Button continued to set steady 1min25s during his final stint just before the chequered flag fell.

However, the sooner both Ferrari and McLaren show they are capable of matching the best efforts of Red Bull, the better for their anxious supporters.

Day Two Times:
1) Schumacher 1:18.561 132 laps
2) Webber 1:19.184 97 laps
3) Ricciardo 1:19.587 100 laps
4) Bianchi 1:20.221 46 laps
5) Raikkonen 1:20.239 117 laps
6) Di Resta 1:20.272 69 laps
7) Massa 1:20.454 95 laps
8) Button 1:20.688 85 laps
9) Perez 1:20.711 68 laps
10) Maldonado 1:21.197 97 laps
11) Kovalainen 1:21.518 139 laps
12) De la Rosa 1:22.128 64 laps

* Times set by Schumacher and De la Rosa were in 2011 cars.

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