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Wheel comes off Alonso's car during pre-season testing

McLaren's two-time world champion shrugs off accident, as Ricciardo posts fastest time

Fernando Alonso did six laps of the Barcelona circuit before crashing into the gravel, after the right rear wheel came off his McLaren at the start of Formula One's pre-season testing yesterday.

The former world champions, who are starting a new engine partnership with Renault after three troubled years with Honda, played down the incident.

"We had a wheel-nut issue, we're fine," executive director Zak Brown said at the Circuit de Catalunya, with Alonso going back out again before the lunch break for a further four laps, ending the day with 49 under his belt before rain limited what teams could do.

"All the teams will have a variety of issues throughout testing, that's exactly what it's for," said the American.

"No big deal at all."

Alonso provided the early headlines, returning to his home track with a smile a year on from a testing nightmare with Honda engines and became the immediate focus when the wheel came off.

The Spaniard remained cheerful after the incident and said it was no big deal, although he lost about three hours of track time while the damage was dealt with.

“So far, so good,” said the double world champion, whose team are expected to be far more competitive since the switch to Renault engines.

“The car was running fine, the engine was running fine. I think there is a huge potential in the McLaren Renault team,” added Alonso.

Asked what had gone through his mind when the car crashed, he grinned, saying: “That it was a good day for you guys. I thought exactly that. This is a very, very small problem but very graphic, very obvious.

“A car in the gravel makes a big thing and there are six teams in the garage with the door closed and the car in pieces but nobody sees it. There are a lot of teams with big trouble and us with a wheel nut, we will make the story of the day.”

RICCIARDO FASTEST

Meanwhile, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, whose team use the same Renault engines as McLaren even if they are branded Tag Heuer, set his fastest lap of one minute 20.179 seconds in the morning session.

Red Bull had to play catch-up last year after a slow start, despite ending up winning three races, but this time launched their new car a week earlier than before and hit the ground running.

So too did sister team Toro Rosso, Honda’s new partners, who completed 93 trouble-free laps with New Zealander Brendon Hartley, who ended the day eighth fastest of the 13 drivers on track.

The test was the first since the introduction of the now mandatory "halo" head protection system and drivers reported no problems with visibility.

Valtteri Bottas was second fastest for Mercedes and completed 58 laps, with a time two tenths off Ricciardo’s, before handing over to four times world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton did 25 laps in soggy conditions.

“It was a solid start,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “It’s difficult to judge because it is very cold and everybody just collects data and sees how they get on.

“It’s interesting to see there are a couple of cars that have been able to post quick times this morning so we are up for an interesting season,” added the Austrian.

Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest for Ferrari, runners-up last year, with Renault’s Nico Huelkenberg fourth.

The season starts in Australia on March 25, with McLaren seeking their first win since 2012.- REUTERS

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