Nick Heidfeld set the fastest time of the third test day at Jerez during his audition to substitute for Robert Kubica at Renault. The German set his 1m20.361sec best at the beginning of an eight-lap run – seemingly on the soft or super-soft tire, given the immediate two-second drop-off and then steady but sharp decline over the rest of the stint.
Fernando Alonso took second place, 0.132sec behind Heidfeld. The Ferrari was busy on track from the outset and posted its best time during a flurry of two- and three-lap charges mid-morning. Ferrari then spent the afternoon with the F150th Italia stacked with fuel for several longer runs. The most impressive of which was 19 laps, lap three being a 1m25.4sec and lap 17 a 1m26.6sec, a drop-off of just 1.2sec over 14 laps.
Mercedes was regularly in the low 1m21sec during quick bursts this morning, but third-placed Michael Schumacher stuck to mainly long runs in the afternoon. The MGP W02 showed signs of improved consistency today, staying within 1.3sec of Schumacher's best lap for 13 laps before slipping by around 0.5sec per lap over the next five.
McLaren lost a chunk of time in the middle of the day due to a shortage of spare parts. In the afternoon, Lewis Hamilton took on a few single-lap bursts, jumping to fourth.
Kamui Kobayashi caused the day's first two red flags. The first came just over 20 minutes in when he stopped on the inside of the track at the exit of the Dry Sack hairpin. The second was an hour from the end when he parked up on the escape road at the chicane.
The Sauber's fastest lap of the day was the one prior to its stoppage first thing this morning, which put him fifth in the end. This afternoon Kobayashi took on an 18-lap stint, holding firm from the 1m25sec to the 1m26sec 14 laps later.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel did not commit to many long runs, mainly sticking to the staple five to eight-lap setup tweaking and tire evaluation stints. His best time was the only one of those in the 1m21sec to be set during a run of as many as eight laps. But the Red Bull was matching Ferrari's consistency of pace this afternoon, with Vettel posting 1m22.8sec on lap four of a stint and 1m23.4sec 11 laps later, losing just over a second.
Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) was never on track for more than six laps at a time. His fastest time came at the start of a four-lap run. The Swiss then caused the final red flag when he stopped on the outside of the entry to Turn 9 with 10 minutes to go, leaving him seventh.
Heikki Kovalainen got some significant mileage in the Lotus T128 following reliability troubles for the car in the previous two days. His regular times ranged from 1m23sec to 1m26sec on a series of short runs during the afternoon. Then he posted a 1m21.7sec with a single burst at the end to move to eighth.
Williams was once again delayed by a KERS problem, though Rubens Barrichello was able to get through a variety of mid-length stints after lunch and end up ninth. The times varied widely as the team appeared to be sampling various tire and fuel combinations. The FW33 seemed able to hang on to a set of tires through a 10-lap run in the 1m24sec.
It was short runs all day for Paul di Resta in his first outing in the Force India VJM04. The variation in times suggested the team was working on things other than performance. The Scot had complained of struggling with the brakes earlier in the day and then caused a red flag when he spun off to the outside of Turn 9 with half an hour of running remaining.
Virgin worked on its long-run pace with 19-lap stints. Jerome D'Ambrosio's times worked down from 1m29sec-1m30sec on the first run to 1m27sec-1m29sec on the second. His best effort of the day was a 1m25sec and that came on the third lap of nine earlier this morning, indicating that the MVR-02 is still some way from showing its full potential.
Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1. Nick Heidfeld, Renault, 1m20.361s, 86
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m20.493s + 0.132s, 131
3. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes 1m21.054s + 0.693s 114
4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes, 1m21.099s + 0.738s, 36
5. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m21.242s + 0.881s, 84
6. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault, 1m21.574s + 1.213s, 98
7. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari, 1m21.681s + 1.320s, 92
8. Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus-Renault, 1m21.711s + 1.350s, 61
9. Rubens Barrichello, Williams-Cosworth, 1m22.227s + 1.866s, 99
10. Paul di Resta Force, India-Mercedes 1m22.945s + 2.584s, 64
11. Jerome D'Ambrosio, Virgin-Cosworth, 1m25.471s + 5.110s, 72
All timing unofficial