By Max Davies, F1 correspondent
Sauber shine in Spain on day three in March pre-season testing at Barcelona
In an undoubted bid to generate exposure for their sponsors and potential partners, Sauber's Sergio Perez set the fastest lap on day three of Formula One's final pre-season testing in Barcelona, Spain.
The Mexican's lap of 1m.21.716s was set on a low-fuel qualifying simulation and eclipsed Sebastian Vettel's previous best of the winter - set yesterday. The team spent most of the morning focusing on short runs before switching to longer runs in the afternoon. A KERS problem hindered the programme and Perez also caused a red flag late in the day after stopping at the pit exit.
"We did a lot of useful preparation work for the first race weekend," he declared. "Although we could not complete the race simulation because of a technical problem, for me it was an interesting and positive programme. It was my last day of testing. I feel ready and I can't wait to race!"
Completing more laps than anyone with 132 in total, Ferrari's Filipe Massa took second with a best effort of 1m22.092s. The Brazilian's time was also set on a low-fuel set up which went some way to underline the performance from Sauber too. Focusing again on reliability, the Maranello-based team continued to rack up the miles and declared themselves happy with how the new components fitted to the F150th.
"It's better, just more downforce on the car, and the more downforce you have, the better, especially with these tyres that degrade quite a lot," Massa said. It was a big package. I think it will be more or less the package for the first race.
"So now we're working hard for the next improvement, as we know how important that is during the championship. But what we brought here was an improvement and the car is just better - better grip, better downforce."
Tuesday's pace setter Mark Webber could only manage third in the Red Bull RB7 with a best time of 1m22.466s. The Australian's effort was set on a reasonably light fuel load and came amid an enticing early battle between Red Bull and Ferrari as both teams embarked on a 'pole position-style' shootout - running almost symmetrical short runs, at the same time.
Despite pulling off the circuit twice and causing stoppages, Rubens Barrichello enjoyed a productive day setting fourth fastest in the Williams with a best time of 1m22.637s, and completing 105 laps in total.
"We had two aims today; to work on new tyre runs and to carry out some long runs," the Brazilian announced. "The new updates on the car seem to have made the car more consistent, and I was happy with our long run pace compared to last week. There's still some work to be done to improve our performance on the first lap on new tyres.
Michael Schumacher took fifth fastest as Mercedes continued to make steady progress with their raft of developments being fitted to the MGP-01. The German's time of 1m22.892s was over 1.1s shy off Perez's effort yet the team focused on more heavy fuel running as it worked to a tight schedule around the testing of an all-new exhaust layout.
"We've had a very productive day and completed a reasonable amount of mileage," the seven time world champion announced. "We were able to check and confirm a lot of things on the set-up of the car with the new upgrade package, and my initial impressions are certainly positive. We've worked hard on reliability at the previous tests and our priority now is to develop and fine-tune the car which we have done quite successfully today."
It was my last day of testing. I feel ready and I can't wait to race!
Completing a mere 32 laps and recovering from a heavy cold, Lotus Renault's Nick Heidfeld claimed 6th fastest - the German's lap of 1m23.541s set in the afternoon. Team mate Vitaly Petrov ran in the morning but could only manage a time of 1m24.233s and a total of 24 laps in eighth position after a problem with the team's KERS system.
"We spent the afternoon trying some different ideas with the set-up and we made quite a few improvements and learned some useful things," Heidfeld confirmed. "I ran on the medium and the soft tyres, and the car felt much better by the end of the day, but there is still a lot more work to complete before the last day of testing tomorrow."
Heikki Kovalainen ended the day sandwiched between the two Renault's in seventh with a best lap of 1m23.990s - some 2.229s off the pace. Sharing the driving duties with Jarno Trulli, the Finn enjoyed a more productive day than his Italian team mate by completing forty laps after Trulli was sidelined with mechanical issues for most of the morning and getting in a mere six laps himself.
"Today was a very good day for us," Chief technical Officer Mike Gascoyne said. "It was a much more productive than a couple of the days we have had in testing so far. We concentrated on long runs, looking at tyre degradation and setup options, and the pitcrew worked through a number of pitstop practices in advance of the first race so we ran through the entire plan and everyone is happy with the work that has been done today."
Ninth for Force India, Adrian Sutil focused on long runs, ending the day with 108 laps in total and a best of 1m24.334s.
Completing over 100 laps, Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari took tenth position with a 1m24.779s lap while also concentrating on longer runs and plenty of pitstop practice for the mechanics.
Marussia Virgin were granted the rare treat of not seeing one of their drivers propping up the field - Jerome D'Ambrosio finishing ahead of Trulli in eleventh place with a best lap of 1m27.336s and a total of 96 for the day.