Nick Heidfeld all but cemented his chances of a return to Formula One by setting the fastest time on the third day of pre-season testing at Jerez for the Lotus Renault GP team. The German, auditioning for the role to replace the injured Kubica,...
Nick Heidfeld all but cemented his chances of a return to Formula One by setting the fastest time on the third day of pre-season testing at Jerez for the Lotus Renault GP team.
The German, auditioning for the role to replace the injured Kubica, took over the driving duties from Vitaly Petrov and spent the morning acclimatising to the team, tweaking the car setup before getting down to business and concentrating on more meaningful lap times over a variety of light and heavy fuel loads. His 1m20.361s best was set at the start of an eight-lap run.
Completing a total of 86 laps, the 33 year-old declared himself content with his performance. "I really enjoyed the day. It was fun driving the car, although it obviously takes time to get used to things when it's your first time in a car and working with a new team.
"We had a good day, without too many problems, and luckily all the changes we made to the car went in the right direction and improved things, so I was able to push harder and harder," he added.
Heidfeld was keen to play down the significance of his performance however. "In terms of the lap times, it's very difficult for me to compare with the other teams because we don't know the fuel levels or what the others were doing," he stated.
Completing 131 laps - more than anyone else - Fernando Alonso enjoyed a productive day for Ferrari and finished second fastest time on a 1m20.493s. The F150th Italia was frequently on the circuit and the Spaniard's best time was set during a bout of both two and three lap charges during mid-morning. Underlining the Italian squad's apparent long run pace, Alonso - sporting a different helmet design in respect of his injured friend Kubica, spent the afternoon largely on heavier fuel loads and was consistent with his lap times.
"It is very important to be able to do so many kilometres one after the other, without experiencing any problems," said Alonso. "It means we can pick up a lot of data which is useful especially when it comes to understanding the tyre behaviour, which is the biggest unknown at this test."
Showing signs of initial improvement this year, Michael Schumacher took the Mercedes MGP W02 to third quickest time on a 1m21.054 during quick bursts in the morning session. The seven times world champion then spent much of the afternoon focusing on long run performance.
Schumacher was however, frustrated at the hindrance three red flags during the day as he told reporters after the chequered flag: "It was a bit of a shame, we had a specific programme running in the afternoon that got cancelled out due to the red flags. But that's the situation in testing and we have to deal with it. I'm quite happy today, we did over 100 laps. That was our priority and we achieved it."
Having handed the keys to the MP4-26 to Jenson Button yesterday, Lewis Hamilton was back in action for McLaren and despite loosing a large amount of track time in the middle of the day due to a spare parts shortage, the 2008 world champion finished fourth on a 1m21.099s. He completed only 36 laps and the team will fly out replacement components overnight in time for Button to complete the four-day test.
Kamui Kobayashi ended the day 5th for Sauber with a 1m21.242s lap. Despite registering 84 laps for the day, the Japanese driver caused two of the red flags when he stopped on the inside of the track at Turn 6, before parking the car up the escape road at the chicane.
Sebastian Vettel mainly focused on a stable five to eight-lap runs for Red Bull - concentrating mainly on set up and tyre evaluation work. His 1m21.574s lap was good enough for 6th overall, the defending champion showed that under similar fuel loads, the RB7 would appear to have similar pace to the Ferrari as both men lapped around the 1m22.8s bracket in the afternoon.
Sebastien Buemi spent the day concentrating mainly on short lap bursts, never extending beyond six lap runs at any one time. His fastest time was a 1m21.681s and it came at the start of a four-lap run but was only good enough for 7th place at the end of the day. The young Swiss caused the final red flag off the afternoon after stopping on the outside of the entry to Turn 9 with a mere ten minutes of the session remaining.
Although managing to complete only 61 laps in the Team Lotus T128, Heikki Kovalainen didn't endure the reliability issues which blighted the team's first two days running. Setting a 1m21.711s lap, the Finn ended 8th quickest but that lap was set on a three lap run in the last few minutes of the session.
"Today was very encouraging and I really enjoyed driving the car," said Kovalainen. "I still have the same feeling that I had in Valencia - it's fundamentally a good car and there's a lot more to come from it. We managed to make very good progress today and by the end of it, we finished right in the mix so we're all pretty happy with the day's work."
Despite being delayed, yet again by a problem with his KERS system, Rubens Barrichello was able to work through a meaningful programme for Williams and eventually settled in 9th place with a 1m22.227s lap. The Brazilian's times fluctuated throughout the day as the team worked through a variety of set ups and varying levels of fuel.
Sampling the Force India VJM04 for the first time, Scotland's Paul di Resta concentrated mainly on low fuel short runs. He announced he was having issues with the brake balance of the car earlier in the day and this ultimately resulted in him spinning on the outside of Turn 9 and causing a red flag with but half an hour of running left.
"Today was really about me getting used to the new car, plus getting as much information about the new tyres and set-up options as possible" di Resta confirmed. "We've still got a bit of work to do, but today was about determining the right way to go."
Working on long run performance, Marussia Virgin's Jerome D'Ambrosio ran mostly on 19-lap stints with his times working down from 1m29s-1m30s on the first run to 1m27s-1m29s in the second.
Although completing 72 laps for the day, the Belgian's 1m25s lap would seem to indicate that despite varying levels of performance during short and long stints, the MVR02 is still not showing it's full potential.