Going for a big finish, Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers completed a speed sweep of Formula One testing in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, on Thursday. Sebastien Buemi and Takuma Sato topped timesheets, becoming the only drivers this week to time under the 1 minute, 18-second mark on the 2.75-mile Circuit de Jerez.
As he has all week, perhaps now former test driver Buemi led the way. The Swiss who spent last season as test driver for the team has been tipped for a Toro Rosso race seat. The team must replace German wunderkind Sebastian Vettel, 22, who moves to senior team Red Bull Racing to partner Australia's fourth-highest sports earner, as judged by Business Review Weekly, millionaire Mark Webber. Buemi, 20, is vying for a seat held in the 2008 season by Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who was in Jerez earlier this week fighting to save his seat. Buemi is the only driver to have tested all three days the team was at work.
Since hints emerged Buemi might have landed the job, he has staged a storming display, logging lengthy mileage with consistent quicks. Thursday, he cruised to a 1:17.258 fast lap among 139, the most laps completed in a day's work blessed by near-perfect weather. He was followed to a sub-1:18 lap by possible 2009 race partner Takuma Sato. Sato drove 117 laps with a best of 1:17.520. Also racking up high mileage were Nico Rosberg of Williams, with 130 laps, Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber with 126, and Fernando Alonso of Renault with 124.
"I am pleased with the way these three days of testing have gone," Buemi said. "We have got through a lot of work with a minimum of interruptions. Setting up the car to work with slick tires and with reduced downforce was very interesting, and it was also good for me to try the rain tires on the first day. We have learnt a lot and acquired plenty of data, which should be useful for the team for next season."
As has also followed this week, McLaren and Ferrari hauled up next on timesheets. With his team leader Lewis Hamilton continuing a world championship tour of Britain, this time speaking out in London to warn of drinking and driving, and to opine that F1 won't adopt a standard engine, Heikki Kovalainen continued tire testing and aero mapping in a McLaren Mercedes MP4-23A. Kovalainen's fast lap of 1:18.049 put him third-quick among 10 drivers testing for six teams. The Finn completed 96 laps.
He was followed on timesheets by Ferrari's A team, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who continued setup work, slicks evaluation, and new component development on an '09-adapted F2009. Raikkonen further concentrated on engine life. Raikkonen's best time was a lap of 1:18.782 accomplished in 82 laps; Massa recorded a 1:19.050 in 72. They were fourth- and fifth-quick.
Alonso was sixth-quick in 1:19.319 at the wheel of an R28. The Spaniard evaluated suspension setups, added miles to other components, and continued to judge wear, handling and stability of Bridgestone's 2009 slicks.
"It was a good day as we continued to add miles to the car and to understand the tires," Alonso said. "We maximised the time on the track and managed to do a lot of laps as well as some basic setup work. I have already been doing a lot of physical work to get ready for next year and so spending a couple of days in the car this week was another important part of my preparation and has helped me get back up to speed. I'm now looking forward to testing the new car in January."
Chief test engineer Christian Silk called the day productive and without major problems. "Fernando had a busy program and did a lot of laps once again, and so we completed all the main things that we needed to do," he said. "It's nice to end our 2008 testing season on a high as the test team have done a great job this year, so thanks for all their efforts. We now look forward to the New Year as we get ready for a busy winter developing the new car."
Rosberg was less than seven-hundredths of a second behind Alonso. The German put in a second day at the wheel of a modified FW30 working on understanding not only new aerodynamic rules but the new slicks. "It was a good test for the team in Jerez," Rosberg said. "My two days were probably more productive than those earlier in the week as the conditions were more consistent and, therefore, conducive to testing. We managed to cover a lot of ground, mainly on some important mechanical developments for '09, and for which we got some clear results, which is good. We also spent time learning the new aero components and the slick tires. I covered a lot of laps on both days, which is always useful, and we had no reliability issues, which is great, considering how many new parts we're running. Overall, it was a positive test."
McLaren tester Pedro de la Rosa followed after trading cars with Kovalainen, who drove the MP4-23K, the KERS car, Wednesday. De la Rosa turned a best lap of 1:19.499 despite niggling problems with the kinetic energy recovery system. He was limited to 47 laps by the gremlins.
Rounding out time charts were BMW Sauber race drivers Kubica and Nick Heidfeld driving modified F1.08Bs. They made a late start after deciding cold morning temperatures would produce no worthwhile data measurements. Kubica still managed to complete the 126 laps, with a quick lap of 1:19.559. Heidfeld completed 91 laps with a quick one of 1:19.738.
"I could do a lot of laps today and covered nearly 600 kms (372 miles), which was very good," Kubica said. "Our main goal at this stage is to understand what we can do with the setup options for next year's car."
BMW Sauber is one of a few teams to continue testing next week on the Iberian Peninsula.