Hot track temperatures -- nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit -- again blessed those Formula One teams whose final testing was left this late. Four teams gathered in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, on Tuesday completed or neared completion of winter testing ahead of the season start in Australia on March 29.
Jenson Button of Brawn GP toured the 2.75-mile, wind-kissed Circuito de Jerez in the fastest unofficial time, a lap of 1 minute, 17.844 seconds, a milestone time for being the first of the Jerez test season under 1:18. He was followed by Nico Rosberg of William F1, 1:18.071, Nelson Piquet of Renaut, 1:18.382, and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, 1:19.121.
Button, who suffered a gearbox failure soon after taking over from teammate Rubens Barrichello on Monday, covered 114 laps in the Mercedes-powered BGP 001 in completing the car's chassis setup and performance development. In another milestone, given the difficulty of last year's Honda RA108, Button pronounced the car to his liking.
"We have had a very useful test in Jerez this week, particularly today where we have been able to fine-tune the setup of the car to my liking ahead of the first race," Button said. "Even after such a short testing program, I feel that we are ready for the challenge ahead in Melbourne, however, we will still need every minute of the Friday practice sessions to make the most of our first race weekend."
Team principal Ross Brawn declared the team's short prep season a success.
"The conclusion of this week's test in Jerez brings our short preseason testing program with the BGP 001 to a successful conclusion," Brawn said. "Our program to date has been dominated by the requirement to prove the car's reliability, however, we are also pleased with the competitive lap times that we have seen from the car over the past two weeks. The test in Jerez has been particularly useful and allowed the drivers to complete valuable chassis setup work and evaluate the Bridgestone Potenza tire compounds, which we will use in Melbourne. I would like to thank the team and our drivers for all their hard work over the past few weeks as we look forward to the first race and the opportunity to finally see the car in action in a competitive environment."
Rosberg's 66 laps in the Toyota-powered FW31 were spent on setup tuning, aero work, reliability checks, and tire testing.
"Today, we worked on our race starts process and mechanical setups with Nico," Williams F1 technical director Sam Michael said. "We then moved onto long runs in order to evaluate different aero parts. Unfortunately, Nico had an off this afternoon so preparations to turn the car around for Kazuki's arrival tomorrow started slightly earlier than scheduled."
Piquet did aero work and practice starts for his 133 laps in the R29.
"My final day of testing went really well, and I'm pleased that we were able to do so many laps," Piquet said. "We were looking at the car's aero performance today as well as doing some setup work in preparation for the first race, and, overall, we found a good balance with the car. It was pretty windy, but the track conditions were good so we were able to get a lot done. I'm now ready for the season to start next week, and I think as a team we can be happy with the work we've done over the winter."
Chief test engineer Christian Silk said final-day success sends the team off to Australia on a high note.
"It was our last day of testing this year and so we had a lot of things to get through," Silk said. "The weather was good, which meant we could get a lot done and cover a lot of laps with Nelson, which is good for his preparation for the start of the season. We had a continuation of our aero program, trying to find some more performance from the car, and that was successful as we came here with some questions and have come away with both answers and performance. I'm also happy with the team's performance over the past few weeks -- we've had a tough winter schedule but it's nice to end our final test on a high."
Starting to anchor time charts in a worrying way for McLaren Mercedes, Hamilton continued testing aerodynamic modifications without seeing significant time improvements. A gusting wind played havoc with the team's test systems. Teams use measuring objects stuck to the car to take wind speed and atmospheric pressure readings that help engineers determine aerodynamic loads.
Heikki Kovalainen is scheduled to continue testing the MP4-24 on Wednesday and to conclude the test Thursday.