Lotus back on track in Barcelona

Lotus put behind them their troubles of last week to return to the top of the timesheet on the first day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona.

Just nine days after being forced to abandon the second test after only a handful of laps due to a major mechanical defect, Romain Grosjean completed a comfortable 73 laps at the Circuit de Catalunya, with his best set in one minute 23.252secs.

That was just under a second off the fastest from last week posted by Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi on Friday, albeit on the quicker super soft Pirelli tyres.

The Frenchman finished nearly a quarter of a second up on Jenson Button in his McLaren, followed by the Sauber of Sergio Perez and Mark Webber’s Red Bull, the latter duo just over half a second down.

The Australian is already predicting a close-run affair for the opening grand prix on home soil in 17 days’ time.

‘We are all anxious to get to Melbourne and see where all of our work is,’ said Webber.

‘I think it is going to be really tight, with the racing between several teams.’

Nico Rosberg added significant mileage on to the new Mercedes with a high of 128 laps, finishing 0.740secs behind Grosjean, with Toro Rosso rookie Jean-Eric Vergne nearly a second behind in sixth.

Force India’s Paul di Resta is convinced his car is ‘on an upward slope’ following another solid day, although he was only seventh quickest with a lap just over a second slower than Grosjean.

The Scot was narrowly ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who managed 105 laps in a car that is so far proving difficult to read after a troubled start in Jerez.

Track side: Lotus enjoyed impressive day

After failing to dip below one minute 26 seconds on any day last week, Caterham showed significant improvement as Vitaly Petrov posted a time of 1:24.876 and completed 123 laps.

Petrov was called in as a late replacement for Heikki Kovalainen as the Finn was meant to drive today, only to be hit by food poisoning throughout the night.

With chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne describing the day as ‘excellent’, Petrov added: ‘The car worked very well from the first installation lap right up to the final lap.

‘I hope we can build on what we have done over the next couple of days and leave the test in very good shape for the first race.’

That raised Kovalainen’s spirits as via his Twitter account he said: ‘Stomach feeling better, only some temperature now (so) hopefully fighting the bug off.

‘Been following the test. Vitaly did a great programme today.’

Williams’ Pastor Maldonado brought up the rear, the Venezuelan finishing 2.335secs down and managing the lowest amount of laps with 57 due to a couple of technical issues.

Just the 10 teams were on track as Marussia failed the last of 18 crash tests on Monday, forcing them to withdraw from this test to focus on ensuring their car is given the green light to start the season.

Although HRT recently passed the crash tests, their car is still not entirely ready, although they are hoping to take part in the final day on Sunday.