Sebastian Vettel raised the bar on the penultimate morning of Formula One’s final pre-season test by setting an unofficial track record at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
The four-time champion smashed Daniel Ricciardo’s lap time from Wednesday by nearly a second as Ferrari showed their impressive hand with just one full day of practice remaining.
Vettel became the first driver this winter to dip beneath the one minute, 18 second mark with an effort of 1:17.182. The 30-year-old German also recorded 84 laps, with Valtteri Bottas the only driver to have managed more miles.
Lewis Hamilton, who beat Vettel to last year’s championship with two rounds to spare, will take over from Mercedes team-mate Bottas on Thursday afternoon.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, meanwhile, was fifth on the time sheets at lunch with 47 laps under his belt.
The British team are bidding to make up for lost time following two successive days blighted by reliability issues, but Vandoorne was again bottom of the lap charts.
The Belgian, however, did post McLaren’s fastest lap of the winter so far with a time of 1:18.855.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso missed nearly seven hours of running on Wednesday following an oil leak, but the 36-year-old Spaniard insisted he is not fazed by McLaren’s apparent reliability woes.
“There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the car.” Alonso said. “The issues we have had are under control.
“Unfortunately we keep discovering small things but that is making us in a strong position for Australia because we are strengthening all of those things.”
The new F1 season gets under way in Melbourne on March 25.