Lotus top time sheets on test return as Caterham close in

Hethel-backed Lotus made up for lost time by producing the quickest lap on the opening day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona.

The Norfolk marque was forced to pull out of the second winter test after just seven laps with an engine mounting problem, one which could have had serious implications for Lotus' preparations this season.

But Frenchman Romain Grosjean eased any such fears with a Thursday best of one minute 23.252 and 73 laps under the team's belt with three days still to run.

Jenson Button's McLaren MP4-27 and the Sauber C31 of Sergio Perez completed the top three with Mark Webber's Red Bull RB8 close behind, while Nico Rosberg's Mercedes W03 clocked the most laps at 128.

Hingham-backed Caterham had a difficult start to the day as nominated test driver for the day, Heikki Kovalainen, went down with a dose of food poisoning.

The Finn should recover in time to make in appearance during the remaining three days in Barcelona – but his Russian team-mate Vitaly Petrov covered well on Thursday.

Petrov clocked 123 laps in his CT01 with a best of 1:24.876 – little more than one and a half seconds off Grosjean's day one benchmark.

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'Today the car was working very well from the first installation lap and right up to the final lap this afternoon,' said the Russian.

'We managed to work through the whole tyre program and put in solid lap times all day, as well as working through a number of other setup programs that are helping me find the right balance I can really push with. My race seat will be in the car for Sunday so I think we can make more progress then, when I know I'll be fully comfortable in the car.

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

Norwich-born technical officer Mike Gascoyne added: 'That was an excellent day for us, despite the very late change of driver we had to make this morning.

'This morning we were focusing on further tyre evaluation and setup work, and in the afternoon session we completed a number of long runs which has helped us take a step forward with the setup options for this car. Taking into account the number of laps we ran today, and the fact Vitaly is feeling ever more comfortable with the team and in the car I think we can say that this has been the perfect start to the test for the whole team.'

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