Russian F2 driver Nikita Mazepin fastest in first test for Mercedes

BARCELONA, Spain -- Russian driver Nikita Mazepin kept Mercedes at the top of the timesheets on the second day of this week's in-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

The two-day test was the last opportunity teams have to complete unrestricted testing before the end of the season and Mercedes opted to give the day to the 20-year-old Russian F2 driver. Mazepin tested for Force India in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and is currently paying for a series of private tests in Mercedes' 2017 car while also helping out at the factory as a simulator driver.

Under the regulations, at least two of the four in-season test days have to be completed by a driver with less than three grands prix experience and, with no junior drivers on its books who meet the criteria, Mazepin was the logical choice.

His fastest time - a 1:15.757 - was 0.25s off the fastest lap set by race driver Valtteri Bottas on Tuesday and the third fastest time ever recorded on the current layout of the Circuit de Catalunya. The time was set towards the end of the day using Pirelli's softest tyre -- the C5 compound -- and was 1.3s clear of the rest of the field.

Mazepin caused a red flag earlier in the session when he spun into the gravel at Turn 12, but he stopped short of the barriers and there was no obvious damage done to the car.

"Today was incredible," Mazepin said. "Being a part of this team, even just for this day was very special for me. It's every young driver's dream to drive a car like this and today mine came true, so I'm really happy.

"Importantly it was a successful day on track too, we gathered most of the data we set out to collect, we didn't encounter any problems and from my side I felt I could deliver consistently throughout the day -- which is important for the team. In the afternoon we were competitive on the performance runs and the car felt great. Everyone in the team is working so hard and you can feel that when you sit in this car."

Alexander Albon was second fastest for Toro Rosso and also caused a red flag when his car stopped on track towards the end of the session. He finished ahead of Ferrari simulator driver Antonio Fuoco, who tested the SF90 for the same reason Mercedes drafted in Mazepin.

However, Ferrari was able to run a second car as part of Pirelli's test programme for 2020, with race driver Charles Leclerc at the whee for 127 laps. Pirelli worked through prototype constructions and compounds aimed at protecting the tyres from overheating while running behind another car -- a common complaint from drivers in recent years. Leclerc finished the day 0.065s off Fuoco, but as he was on different rubber and a completely different run plan, comparisons mean very little.

"The car felt really good to drive," Fuoco said. "It will be important for us to analyse the data we collected today, as well as the correlation with the simulator, given that I do a lot of work in it. I really enjoyed the day and would like to thank the team for this opportunity."

Alfa Romeo had to rebuild its car for Wednesday after Callum Ilott's accident on Tuesday demolished everything but the chassis on Tuesday. Raikkonen was on a similar pace to the Ferraris but used the softest compound available, and completed 110 laps by the end of the day.

Jack Aitken was among four F2 drivers taking part in Wednesday's test and was behind the wheel of the Renault. F2 championship leader Nicholas Latifi completed another day for Williams, while Sergio Sette Camara shared the McLaren with regular test driver Oliver Turvey.

Red Bull junior Dan Ticktum, who races in Japanese Super Formula, was driving for Red Bull and caused a red flag when his car stopped at the side of the track with a driveline issue. Problems on the cars of Latifi and Sette Camara also resulted in the session being red flagged after they got stranded on track with technical issues.

"Driving the McLaren Formula One car was an amazing opportunity for me today," Sette Camara said. "I was able to learn some new procedures, see how the car felt and do a few flying laps. It's a shame we had to cut the day short, but from my side I learned a lot and I'm really happy to have had the chance to drive a car like that. Thank you to everyone at McLaren for the experience and I hope to be able to repeat it again in the future."

Like Ferrari, Racing Point ran two cars on Wednesday, with Nick Yelloly completing test work for the team and Lance Stroll working as a test driver for Pirelli.

The F1 paddock will reconvene in Monte Carlo in a week's time to kick off the Monaco Grand Prix weekend.

Times
1. Nikita Mazepin (Mercedes) - 1m15.775s - C5 compound - 128 laps
2. Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) - 1m17.079s- (C4) compound - 109 laps
3. Antonio Fuoco (Ferrari) - 1m17.284s - (C4) compound - 120 laps
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) - 1m17.393s - C5 compound - 110 laps
5. Jack Aitken (Renault) - 1m17.621s - (C4) compound - 75 laps
6. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) - 1m18.101s - (C3) compound - 106 laps
7. Nick Yelloly (Racing Point) - 1m18.212s - C5 compound - 83 laps
8. Nicholas Latifi (Williams) - 1m18.573s - C5 compound - 88 laps
9. Dan Ticktum (Red Bull) - 1m19.458s - (C3) compound - 79 laps
10. Oliver Turvey (McLaren) - 1m20.712s - (C3) compound - 52 laps
11. Sergio Sette Camara (McLaren) - 1m21.565s - (C2) compound - 19 laps

Pirelli Development test
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) - 1m17.349 - 127 laps
Lance Stroll (Racing Point) - 1m 20.745 - 119 laps