Rosberg fastest at Barcelona, McLaren makes strides

MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Nico Rosberg pushed his Mercedes to the fastest lap so far in preseason testing at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit as Jenson Button saw his promising drive end in the grass on Friday.

Rosberg let loose a late flying lap of 1 minute, 22.792 seconds to put champions Mercedes on the top of the timesheet for the first time this preseason.

“We have shown today that we are fast, but I don’t know how we stack up to the other teams,” said the cautious Rosberg. “We have to wait until tomorrow and the next day and then we still won’t know until Melbourne.”

McLaren has been plagued by a myriad of mechanical problems and is without Fernando Alonso for this last week of preparation as he recovers from Sunday’s crash.

But after an overnight engine change by new supplier Honda, Button was 20 minutes away from a trouble-free day when he went off the track on his 101st lap, the highest daily total for McLaren this winter. Button had previously not put in more than 35 on a given day, while Alonso’s highest tally was 59.

Williams continued to impress as Valtteri Bottas set the second fastest lap time, ahead of Sauber’s Nasr Felipe.

Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari was next, followed by Button in fifth.

McLaren wasn’t the only team to make good use of the sunny and rain-free conditions made for a very productive day of driving. Six of the nine drivers got in over 100 laps, with Vettel leading the pack with 143.

Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg still managed 77 laps after finally debuting the team’s new car just before the lunch break.

Testing concludes Sunday. The season starts at the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.