Sebastien Bourdais embraced the warmth of sunny southern Spain on Thursday to post fast time among five Formula One teams testing at Jerez de la Frontera. Perhaps finally accustomed to last year's chassis, Bourdais plopped a 1-minute, 18.492-second fast lap atop time sheets at the 2.75-mile Circuito de Jerez. The Frenchman sent the STR3 through setup work and front suspension evaluation and compared tire compounds, soft to medium. Scrutiny extended to the reliability of the Ferrari engine. Bourdais completed 126 laps.
Lewis Hamilton followed in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 with a 1:20.737 set among 93 laps. Hamilton spent the morning on aero mapping and balance and adjusted to controlling the KERS unit and the front wing. By afternoon he was able to make longer runs. "Today's test gave me the first opportunity to drive the MP4-24 in warm, dry conditions, and I'm very encouraged by what I felt," Hamilton said. "The car feels strong, very similar to last year's car, in fact, it doesn't take long to get used to the new buttons in the cockpit, but the real test for everyone now is to understand the slick tires ahead of the first race in Melbourne next month."
Newbie at Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel fell perhaps a lap short of equaling his English contemporary. Vettel posted a best lap of 1:20.738 in 92 laps in the RB5. But a long morning run that resulted in bodywork damage -- oopsy -- put Vettel in the garage for repairs, somewhat limiting his mileage. He came back strongly for an afternoon go at mechanical setup and aerodynamic testing.
Kazuki Nakajima also completed 92 laps. He posted a best of 1:20.898 in the Williams FW31. "Kazuki continued work on setup items and completed some systems and cooling checks today," Williams technical director Sam Michael said. "We have some useful information, which we will look into tonight in preparation for tomorrow's session. Nico Rosberg joins the team for the last day and will share pitstop practice work with Kazuki in the morning before taking over the FW31 for the final half day of testing in the afternoon."
Saying the day was all about getting mileage on the car, Fernando Alonso took workhorse honors with 133 laps in the Renault R29. But his best lap was slowest among all runners, 1:21.307. Chief test engineer Christian Silk conceded the first two days of the test this week were difficult, but he said Alonso helped the team turn a corner. The high-mileage approach assures reliability and sets down data for evaluation. Alonso said he is more comfortable in the car with added miles. He'll work on setup next.
As for other teams in action, it's called Sod's Law, that action that sends it all wrong with a wicked twist of irony. In this case, it's all that sand -- if only the course had sod! -- that stopped Formula One testing at Bahrain International Circuit. For a second consecutive day, dimmed visibility caused by blowing sand grounded the medical helicopter and scuppered testing. Track officials provide a dust cover for the course, but when the course setting blows by darkening the skies, it's of little use.
Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari F60, Jarno Trulli in a Toyota TF109, and Robert Kubica in a BMW Sauber F1.09 managed exactly installation laps before the pit lane was closed and proceedings halted. Thereafter, teams could do little more than systems checks with the cars on stands in the garages.
Testing on the Arabian Gulf island was seen as an ideal answer when bad weather in Portugal in January kept teams in the garage through lashing rain and gusting winds. Another day's delay can't be welcomed by teams whose in-season testing has been sacrificed to cost cutting. Just over six weeks remain before the season start in Melbourne, Australia. Events in Sakhir give fresh perspective to a decision by Force India supremo Vijay Mallya to not test until March as the team shift from Ferrari engines to engines and gearboxes from new associate McLaren Mercedes.