Nico Rosberg quickest for Mercedes in Barcelona Formula One testing

Formula One Safety Car

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were given fresh hope for the new Formula One season in Barcelona when Nico Rosberg, the team's other driver, topped the timings on the opening day of the second testing session.

Mercedes could scarcely have made a worse start to the first test in Jerez. On the first day Rosberg's car caught fire after an electrical fault, restricting him to 14 laps, and on the second Hamilton managed only one more lap before crashing when his rear brakes failed.

Even though Mercedes made amends, with Rosberg and Hamilton completing long runs, the team gave no clear indication that it could improve on last season's disappointing showing, when it finished fifth in the world championship behind Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Lotus.

However, testing is Formula One's phony war. Teams experiment with their specifications and do not reveal their true fuel levels. Nothing will become clear until final qualifying in Melbourne on 16 March, the day before the first race of the season.

But this was still an encouraging showing by Rosberg at the Circuit de Catalunya, which is considered one of the best all-round tests of a car's capabilities.

"It's always nice to be quickest at the end of the day," he said. "In general I feel happy and comfortable in the car and it feels better than the last time we were here at this track.

"The car feels decent out there. It has a much, much better base. You can feel its centre of gravity is lower, the aero [dynamics] is better, the platform is better. It feels a lot stronger. It's a pleasure to drive because it's a lot faster than last year."

Rosberg finished seven thousandths of a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso – who was not in Jerez – coming third, driving 110 laps in his first outing. The world champion, Sebastian Vettel, produced the day's fourth fastest time in his Red Bull.

Williams became the last of the 11 teams to unveil their new car, the FW35, and Pastor Maldonado posted the fifth quickest time of the day.

Sir Frank Williams said: "We will have to wait until Australia to truly see what we have but we believe it is a step forward from last year's car, which was also a very competitive vehicle. I'm hoping with the combined talent of Pastor and Valtteri [Bottas] we will be in a position to challenge the very best."

There was a setback for Williams when they and Caterham were told by the FIA, the sport's governing body, that their exhaust systems are illegal. But they have plenty of time to correct that before the season starts in Australia.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Weaver, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 19th February 2013 19.37 Europe/London

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