The 2008 world champion leapt to the head of the field during Friday’s morning session, with McLaren’s Jenson Button the only driver to come close to matching Hamilton’s furious pace.
“It was nice to be able to put together a good lap today because generally speaking there seems to be less grip available than last year,” said a pleased Hamilton.
“I'm looking forward to completing a race simulation next week as we didn't quite get to finish it today. We're trying to find any issues we can now to prevent them happening during a race situation, so from that perspective it's a positive that we were able to find and fix something again today.
“The car seems to be responding well to my style of driving and the power unit is looking promising, with all of the Mercedes-powered teams completing good mileage. We won't know where we are for definite until we get to Melbourne so we're just continuing to focus on our run programmes, keep positive and look forward; the team has done a great job to get where we are today so we just need to keep that going.”
Button was a long way off Hamilton’s pace at lunch, but edged closer to his former team mate during a busy afternoon period. The Briton completed 103 laps in total in the Mercedes-powered MP4-29 - more than anyone else managed on the day.
Felipe Massa took over the FW36 from Williams team mate Valtteri Bottas in the afternoon and set the third fastest time of the day. The Brazilian and the Finn spent much of their sessions working on pitstop practice, with Bottas failing to register a time as a result.
“We ended up doing 43 live pitstops and went through our race start procedures,” confirmed Rod Nelson, Williams’ chief test and support engineer.
“We then did some chassis work at the end of the day with Felipe to try and make up for some of the time he lost on day one. We are happy with how it has gone today. The car is proving to be solid and we are getting a good handle on things including starts performance and all the practical homework we need to do before we go racing in Melbourne. Overall, we are making good progress.”
Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez saw off compatriot Sergio Perez in the Force India for the fourth best time, although Perez admitted that he was still coming to terms with driving the VJM07.
“Although I did two days of testing in Jerez, today was my first proper experience of the car with everything working as planned,” he said.
“There was a small delay this morning, but the rest of the day was interesting and we were able to do some good work in preparation for Melbourne. The first time I drove the car in Jerez it felt very different, but after today I am already getting used to the feeling. There’s less dowforce this year and lots of power so it’s an interesting challenge.”
The sixth fastest time went to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who endured a interrupted session. The Finn’s day began with some aerodynamic and set-up work, but after 12 laps the team encountered a problem with the data connection to the telemetry which required the system to be recalibrated and reactivated.
“We didn’t do as many kilometres as we had been hoping for because even though the problem was a minor one, it still took a while to fix,” explained Raikkonen.
“It shows how complicated these new systems are, but in the afternoon we managed to run consistently. It was useful in terms of getting used to the environment inside the cockpit after the Jerez test and to check some settings relating to the balance of the car.”
Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat was pleased to have got 57 laps under his belt after limited running on previous days, but Pastor Maldonado was less fortunate, completing only 26 laps and bringing out the red flags twice as Lotus’s teething troubles with the E22 continued.
“Unfortunately, in the afternoon we had a number of gearbox related problems,” said Lotus’s trackside operations director Alan Permane.
“Renault have made good progress with the software and Energy Store so we are headed in the right direction in that regards. We have identified the issue related to our gearbox and we have parts on their way from Enstone. Given the distance they have to travel, we may not be out first thing tomorrow, but we expect to be able to make further progress once we do take to the track.”
Sharing Lotus’s frustration were fellow Renault runners Red Bull, who were forced to halt Daniel Ricciardo’s running before the end of the session because of a mechanical problem.
“After yesterday’s good work we had another positive period overnight with the car build, which we’re getting quite good at, and it looked good this morning,” explained Red Bull’s race engineering co-ordinator, Andy Damerum.
“We were focused on short runs for Daniel, as the car feels very different to the one we had in Jerez and we wanted to build things up gradually for him. We made more changes over lunch and in doing so we came across a mechanical issue that we hadn’t encountered before and because of its nature it means we have to take the car apart.
“As everyone in the pit lane is finding out this is a long process, so we decided to suspend running in the afternoon so that we can be ready for the final day. These issues are of course frustrating but this was unrelated to the others so it’s just a case of tackling each issue as it appears. A tough night in prospect but we hope to get a good day in tomorrow.”
Caterham completed the most laps of any of the four Renault-powered cars, with Marcus Ericsson’s tally of 98 laps taking him over the 300km threshold required for an F1 superlicence.
“The boys have worked really hard today and we’ve pretty much had no issues which meant I could just get on with the program, and that was the main goal for today,” the Swedish rookie said.
“Performance-wise there’s still a lot more to come, both from the car and the engine. The times today didn’t really mean anything, and although it’s always nice to put in a quicker time, we’ve been doing pretty long runs all day and just working through the plan. Now I can’t wait to get back in the car again and hopefully our reliability record so far will hold up.”
The final driver to set a time was Marussia’s Max Chilton, although the Briton was only able to complete four laps before stopping out on track because of a problem with the MR03’s Ferrari engine.
The second test concludes in Bahrain on Saturday.
Unofficial Friday test times from Bahrain
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m34.263s, 67 laps
2. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1m34.976s, 103 laps
3. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1m37.066s, 60 laps
4. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m37.180s, 96 laps
5. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m37.367s, 57 laps
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m37.476s, 44 laps
7. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1m38.974s, 57 laps
8. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, 1m39.642s, 26 laps
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1m40.781s, 28 laps
10. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, 1m42.130s, 98 laps
11. Max Chilton, Marussia, 1m46.672s, 4 laps
12. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, no time, 55 laps