By Alan Baldwin

 

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel set the pace in Formula One's pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya on Tuesday while world champion Lewis Hamilton was given the day off by Mercedes.

 

Vettel, like Hamilton a four times champion, lapped with a best time of one minute 19.673 seconds on soft tyres and also completed the most laps (98).

 

Valtteri Bottas was second for Mercedes, and 0.303 slower, also on softs.

 

The fastest time was quicker than that posted by any team at the first Barcelona test of 2017.

 

Hamilton had been supposed to test in the afternoon but Mercedes changed their second day schedule to try and get as much track time before the weather took a turn for the worse.

"This is to maximise our mileage after the poor track conditions limited running this morning," the champions said on Twitter.

"Mileage is king in #F1Testing, so we want to make the most of the current conditions. A driver swap would require switching out seat, pedals, even stickers when we could be out on track."

The usual break for lunch was abandoned, but the sunshine soon gave way to flurries of snow.

McLaren had a better morning than on Monday, when Fernando Alonso's car lost a wheel and crashed into the gravel, with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne third fastest but with only 37 laps to his name.

BAD WEATHER

Hamilton completed just 25 laps on a cold and wet Monday, with snow later in the evening and temperatures plummeting.

"It's great to be back in the car after three months off, but unfortunately we didn't get the chance to complete many laps today owing to the bad weather," the Briton had said on Monday evening.

"The track was very cold in the afternoon, meaning it was tough to get any sort of heat into the tyres. The tyres weren't really working in these temperatures, so I could not get a real feel for them.

"It's hard for me to say a whole lot about the car because I did not drive it for a long time, but the initial feeling is good."

The forecast for Wednesday is wet and teams have been considering adding an extra day to testing to compensate for the missed track time.

Williams have a private filming session scheduled for the circuit on Friday so any extra day would probably have to be added next week.

Hamilton missed the final day of the first test last year, making clear on that occasion that he was not a big fan of wet weather tyres.

"I might fake a pulled muscle in the morning and let Valtteri do it," he had said then.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris)