Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi again led Scuderia Toro Rosso to the top of timesheets in Formula One testing Wednesday at Circuit de Jerez in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Continuing his audition for an expanded gig with the team, the 2008 tester drove an STR3-04 128 laps over the 2.75-mile course on a sunny day in Southern Spain to a best lap of 1 minute, 18.073 seconds, lowering his day's best from the day before by 0.669 seconds.
Job chasers Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais followed him, Sato to a fast-lap 1:18.601 set among 38 laps, Bourdais to a 1:18.673 in 81 laps. Toro Rosso is the only team among nine in the sport yet to confirm a driver lineup. Buemi has shined in close-season testing. He commented after testing last month that he is comfortable with a team approach of retaining a "young" driver and a more seasoned one. Buemi, who turned 20 at the end of October, would be a rookie in F1 next season.
Sato, 31, an F1 veteran of more than 90 starts, most recently appeared as lead driver for the failed Super Aguri team formed around him by -- since-failed -- Honda. Bourdais, 29, is a veteran single-seat racer -- ChampCar series winner four consecutive times -- with only one full F1 season under his belt. Sato's position might be aided by "personal sponsorship" he can offer the team. Sato told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport that his management team has worked "feverishly" to secure significant sponsorship. He indicated they have targeted large corporations, and, he said, "their decisions are not always made quickly." Japan's large and small businesses have been hurt recently by a strong yen, which dents export profits. Sato can be seen as a boost for Red Bull sales in Japan.
Bourdais commented to Auto Motor und Sport that he is looking for sponsorship. His appeals in the United States have been greeted warmly, though some potential sponsors have registered preference that the Frenchman return to full-time single-seat racing -- Indycars -- in America, something he has said he would not do.
Toro Rosso testing involved a runout of Bridgestone's 2010 rain tires owing to a damp track in the morning. Buemi made his first acquaintance with a current intermediate compound. Although the Swiss put in more laps than anyone else, his day ended a tad early after he clipped a curb and slightly damaged the car. Conditions allowed Bourdais to remain in the car most of the day. Sato posted his second-quick time in 90 minutes' drive time. He and Buemi return Thursday.
The next runner, McLaren Mercedes veteran test driver Pedro de la Rosa, seemed positively off the pace at 1:19.032 in 78 laps. McLaren was one of a number of teams to run a front wing bearing 2009 aerodynamic specifications. A second McLaren MP4-23 was in the hands of Heikki Kovalainen, back from physical training in his native Finland. Kovalainen completed 64 laps with a best of 1:19.631, sixth on ever-unofficial timesheets.
Fifth-quick Kimi Raikkonen continued engine reliability, downforce and slicks testing in a modified Ferrari F2008. He drove 89 laps with a best of 1:19.334. Teammate Felipe Massa arrived for the afternoon, driving 27 laps in a similarly kitted-out F2008. The world driving championship runner-up's best lap was 1:20.490, 10th among 11 drivers.
Fernando Alonso made his first test appearance of the close season at the wheel of Renault R28-05. The only double world champion currently in the sport put in 106 laps with a best lap of 1:19.907. He ran slicks and simulated a 2009 program.
"It was a good day and I'm happy to be back in the car," Alonso said. "Unfortunately, I damaged the car a little bit in the morning and so we lost some running, but the team did a good job to repair the car quickly and I was able to run almost all of the afternoon without any problems. It was nice to run on the slick tires as they are more grippy, but when you lose the downforce from the car they don't feel massively different to grooved tires."
Christian Silk, Renault chief test engineer, said: "It's good for Fernando to be back in the car and to get some experience on the 2009 tires. Fernando learnt a lot about the tires, and the engineers learnt a lot from his feedback and setting the car up with him. On the technical side, we continued with a similar program to yesterday, putting mileage on the car, and managed to achieve the main objectives for the day."
Lead driver Nico Rosberg appeared for Williams to put 122 laps on a modified FW30. His fast lap of 1:20.309 came on Lap 84 among miles of rating slick tires. "Fortunately, it stayed dry all day today, which allowed us to clock up the mileage with Nico while continuing our '09 development and setup program," test team manager Dickie Stanford said. "The FW30B modified chassis covered 540 kilometers without encountering any problems, and Nico will finish testing the scheduled items tomorrow on the final day of this week's test."
Williams engine partner Toyota is expected at Bahrain International Circuit to test its F1 team later this week.
BMW Sauber, sounding optimistic and looking to build on resounding success in 2008, hugged the bottom of timesheets as race drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica ran interim cars on modified 2008 chassis. Heidfeld drove an F1.09B-03 for 87 laps, recording a ninth-quick fast lap of 1:20.365 while addressing setup and slick-tire evaluation. "It was a productive day," Heidfeld said. "With the weather being much better, we were able to catch up on some of the development time we lost yesterday. My 87 laps today with a problem-free car gave us the opportunity to try a number of different options."
Kubica encountered a KERS-equipped car for the first time. He completed 38 laps before a mechanical problem occurred. The result was chassis damage that required the balance of the day to repair. Kubica's best lap was a 1:20.954, slowest of the day.
Continuing his off-course excursions, McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton picked up another award, this one the top prize of the Royal Automobile Club. Hamilton was presented the Segrave Trophy, given annually to a British subject who has proven outstanding in land, water or air transport. After narrowly missing a world championship in his rookie season last year, Hamilton, 23, became the youngest F1 runner to scoop the big prize by narrowly winning the world driving title this year. Hamilton picked up the British Racing Drivers' Club top gong as well as other industry awards over the weekend. He has not participated in close-season testing.