Vettel lowers Ricciardo’s unofficial record at F1 testing

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Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during a Formula One pre-season testing session in Montmelo, outside Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, March 7. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during a Formula One pre-season testing session in Montmelo, outside Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, March 7. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Montmelo, Spain (AP) — Sebastian Vettel can start the Formula One season with renewed hopes of challenging Mercedes’ dominance after smashing the unofficial track record on the penultimate day of testing Thursday.

Vettel pushed his Ferrari to a lap of 1 minute, 17.182 seconds at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. That bettered Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo’s effort of 1:18.047 set the previous day.

Both those times, established on the “hypersoft” tire compound introduced this year, were more than a second quicker than Lewis Hamilton’s pole position with Mercedes in last year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The track has been resurfaced after getting a makeover in January.

Vettel also completed a race simulation with a session-high total of 188 laps on his final day of practice before the season starts in less than three weeks. Kimi Raikkonen is scheduled to drive for Ferrari on the last of eight test days on Friday.

“The important thing is that the car was working all day. We did nearly 200 laps,” Vettel said.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton was similarly ambivalent about the times.

“I don’t know if that is a good time.I really don’t care, it’s testing,” Hamilton said. “It’s really irrelevant. What matters is qualifying and the race. I hope it is a good time because that means that (Ferrari) is strong and we have a race on our hands.”

Felipe Massa held the previous record of 1:18.339 in a Ferrari in 2008 testing. Times set in testing are not officially recognized as track records.

Kevin Magnussen turned heads with the day’s second best lap in his Haas, especially as he ran on a slower set of tires to Vettel’s.

Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly followed by Renault pair Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top five times on “hypersoft” tires.

Warm weather made for productive driving with every team reaching the 100-lap mark.

Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas were more than two seconds slower than Vettel, and in the bottom half of the time sheets on a combined 181 laps.

“We were just banging out laps,” Hamilton said.

Max Verstappen was behind Vettel with 187 laps, although his Red Bull put in the second slowest lap of the 13 drivers.

McLaren gained some relief after technical hiccups on Tuesday and Wednesday, as Stoffel Vandoorne recorded the sixth fastest time.

Testing was interrupted only once when Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber spun off into the gravel.

The season begins with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 25.