With Rosberg watching, Bottas sets fastest time in testing

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With retired champion Nico Rosberg watching from the pits on Wednesday, Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya a decade ago.

The display in preseason testing made another clear statement about Mercedes' potential in Formula One this season.

Bottas, who replaced Rosberg after his surprise departure last year, had a time of 1 minute, 19.705 seconds in the morning session on Day 3 of testing, nearly one-and-a-half seconds faster than Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Bottas' time came on the supersoft tires, while Ricciardo had his lap on the slower softs. The Mercedes driver also had the most laps in the morning session with 75.

After the track changes in 2007, when a chicane was added, the fastest lap in Barcelona had been set by Mark Webber's Red Bull in 2010, with a time of 1:19.995 in qualifying. Bottas' time was considered unofficial because it came in testing.

New tire and aerodynamic rules introduced in 2017 to bring more excitement to the series gave cars more grip and downforce, making them significantly faster than in previous years.

Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title with Mercedes, was at the track and spent time in the paddock talking to several drivers and teams.

Lewis Hamilton will take over the Mercedes for the afternoon session on Wednesday.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso had a problem-free session after a series of issues on the first two days.

The teams return to the track on Thursday for the last time this week. Another four-day session will take place from March 7-10.

The season-opening race is in Australia on March 26.

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