The third day of testing at the Sepang circuit proved to be a tricky one as mixed conditions interfered with work programmes. Overnight rain meant the track was wet in the morning and although it dried out for a while, a further downpour in the afternoon frustrated the teams again. As a result the test has been extended to include Friday.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was the man at the top of the list and clocked 1:35.918 for the best time on Thursday. He carried out tyre evaluation and general development work despite a minor oil leak. When the rain returned the team decided enough had already been achieved and will be back on track tomorrow.
Mark Webber continued Red Bull's interesting pace of Wednesday, when teammate David Coulthard was third, and was even better for second fastest, just over two tenths off Hamilton. Over at sister team Toro Rosso, Tonio Liuzzi was on duty and posted an equally interesting fourth. Is this a revival for the Red Bull outfit or just circumstantial? Time will tell.
Between the energy drink manufacturer squads was the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher -- Liuzzi was just one hundredth off the German. Schumacher started on extreme wet tyres and progressed to dries when the conditions improved to work on set up. Like others, Toyota called it a day when the rain returned late afternoon.
"Today was another day without mechanical problems which is very positive and shows we have made improvements since the start of winter testing," Schumacher said. "Unfortunately we could not complete everything we wanted to do due to the rain in the afternoon but that is the same for all the teams and now we will have an extra day of testing to make up for it."
Felipe Massa took over from Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari and was fifth overall, about a second off the pace of Hamilton's McLaren and a couple of tenths behind the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso of Liuzzi. The Brazilian focused on set up work in both wet and dry conditions and completed 64 laps. Massa continues tomorrow.
The Williams of Nico Rosberg was sixth quickest and was followed by Jenson Button's Honda in seventh. The similarly Honda-powered Super Aguri of Anthony Davidson was eighth; the team's schedule was disrupted by the rain but Davidson managed some set up work and made sure he was comfortable in the car after his back pain in Melbourne.
It may have been damp but Nick Heidfeld had a hotter day than most. Around midday an oil leak on his BMW Sauber produced a fire that took the marshals some time to put out. The car was quite damaged but after a few hours of repairs Heidfeld was ready to go back out -- and then it rained again. BMW will return to work tomorrow.
Renault's Heikki Kovalainen rounded off the times in 10th and didn't have a great day either. Delayed by the weather and waiting for new parts to arrive from Enstone, his plans for aerodynamic tests and set up work were disrupted and he only completed 20 laps for the day.
"There's not much to say after today's test," Kovalainen commented. "We didn't do very many laps, and that's always frustrating. But the team has worked really hard, both at the track and back in the factory, and the extra day of testing will be useful to round off our programme."