BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Romain Grosjean impressed in his Lotus on the third-to-last day of testing for the new Formula One season with the fastest lap time, while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was the slowest of the 11 drivers on the Catalunya Circuit.
Still, it was Alonso who was raving about how well the session went, with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix closing in. The Spaniard said that it had been the "perfect day" to prepare for the upcoming season, when he will try for a third world championship title after coming in a close second to Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull last year.
"It was a fantastic day of testing today," he said. "When we saw the forecast for this morning we thought our plans were over because the rain was supposed to be very heavy and we wouldn't be allowed to test the things we wanted to, but in the morning we completed our program to understand the new parts. Then in the afternoon we did some long runs.
"I think the information from today we (didn't) have from 10 days of testing." After the threat of another wet day faded, drivers were able to put in good runs before a late shower dampened the track as they made some of their final adjustments for the first race of the year.
Jenson Button's flying lap in his McLaren before the lunch break held until Grosjean bettered him by almost half a second with a pacesetting effort of 1 minute, 22.716 seconds. Grosjean proved to be one of the fastest, if also erratic, drivers on the circuit last season. He had three podium finishes, and expectations are high that the 26-year-old driver could get his first win in his third season behind the wheel.
Grosjean, however, was hesitant to count himself among the group of veteran front-runners that include his Lotus teammate Kimi Raikkonen. "I don't think (I am among the favorites) to be honest," Grosjean said. "The car is good. That's for sure, but let's see for Melbourne."
Williams' Pastor Maldonado clocked the third fastest time, followed by Vettel and then Nico Hulkenberg for Sauber. Vettel wasn't as pleased as Alonso with his day's outing and again echoed concerns of many drivers that this year's tires from Pirelli were showing too much wear too quickly.
"The tires aren't really working properly and I think everybody is suffering the same problem, struggling to make the tires last for more than a lap," Vettel said. Pirelli has said the tires this season are designed to degrade faster, but that abnormally cold weather in northeastern Spain has contributed to the process.
Nico Rosberg put in a day-high 111 laps in his Mercedes. Alonso was the only other driver to break the 100-lap mark with 102. Steady rain had kept up throughout Thursday's running, but after a light shower in the morning the overcast skies held out with only gusting winds and low temperatures affecting drivers.
A late sprinkling coincided with Caterham's Giedo Van der Garde running off course, and the session ended under a red flag after Maldonado spun off in the pit straight. Both avoided damage to their cars in an incident-free day.
Previously, Grosjean and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo had both sputtered to a stop in the only delays to break up the session as drivers dealt well with the track before it dried. After two more days of testing in Barcelona, the season begins with the Australian GP on March 17.