Great anticipation surrounds the start of preseason Formula 1 testing. With teams working from a blank canvas over the winter, there is no form book or established order. Instead there is unpredictability and expectation, great assets in any sport.
Everything must, of course, be measured against the well-beaten truism that testing can be misleading at best, and impossible to decipher at worst. Here's how the four days at Jerez panned out...
As a number of teams officially unveiled their 2012 challengers, it was a returning champion who proved the revelation on day one. Kimi Raikkonen, fresh from a two-year spell in the World Rally Championship, was in good form away from the track and looked even better on it. Four fast stints in the morning put him top and he was never displaced, his 1m19.670s lap the early benchmark at Jerez.
Paul di Resta was the only man able to join Raikkonen in the sub 1m20s bracket in his Force India, although Nico Rosberg – in the 2011-spec Mercedes, blown diffuser and all – came close.
After a morning spent waiting for parts – the plane they were being transported on couldn't land at Jerez due to fog – Mark Webber enjoyed a more fruitful afternoon, putting the new RB8 fourth fastest ahead of his fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso. McLaren and Ferrari meanwhile made low-key starts – Jenson Button finishing eighth and Felipe Massa ninth. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham), Pastor Maldonado (Williams) and Pedro de la Rosa in the 2011 HRT rounded out the running order.
Michael Schumacher set the outright pace for Mercedes on the second day, but the more significant performance came from Mark Webber, whose Red Bull was the fastest of the 2012 machines. Webber also managed 97 laps on what was a promising day for the squad. Ricciardo, on his second day for Toro Rosso, was the only driver to get within a second of Webber's benchmark.
Force India reserve driver Jules Bianchi – driving in the morning only – wound up fourth fastest ahead of day one pace-setter Raikkonen – the Finn losing much of the morning after running through the gravel at Curva Dry Sac. Di Resta then took the reins of the VJM05 and ended the day sixth ahead of Massa and Button. Sergio Perez took over Sauber duties from Kamui Kobayashi and was ninth, ahead of Maldonado. Kovalainen meanwhile got to use KERS on the Caterham for the first time, ending 11th ahead of de la Rosa.
The third day was as notable for driver changes as it was for on-track action, with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso among those getting their first taste of the 2012 machines. Nico Rosberg kept Mercedes on top, meaning that – for once – second place was of more significance. The spot was claimed in emphatic fashion by Romain Grosjean, who lapped in 1m18.419s on his first day in the Lotus. The time would stand as the fastest any 2012 car achieved across the four days.
Vettel was the only driver to get within a second of Grosjean, with Hamilton's MP4-27 less than 0.2s down the road in fourth. Jean-Eric Vergne – another newcomer – was fifth for Toro Rosso ahead of Perez's Sauber, which was afflicted by an oil transmission issue. A partisan crowd watched as Alonso continued Ferrari's low-key start by ending up seventh, ahead of the day's final newcomers Bruno Senna (Williams) and (reserve) Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde. Bitter morning conditions meanwhile proved the undoing of Force India: Bianchi's gravelly excursion at Curva Sito Pons bringing the team's day to a premature and frustrating end.
Alonso turned the tables on a difficult start to pre-season testing for Ferrari by topping the times on the fourth and final day at Jerez. The Spaniard set the second fastest time by a 2012 car early in the morning, and while his running was disrupted in the afternoon he was never displaced.
His 0.7sec advantage was all the more impressive given the condensed order behind him. Vergne hung on to second despite pressure from Vettel, who responded to electrical issues in the morning with a 1m19.606s in afternoon conditions less conducive to quick times.Hamilton, Grosjean and Kobayashi all got within a second of Alonso, with the Sauber a culprit of one of several short red flag periods when it sprang a hydraulic leak. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh fastest on his first day in the Force India, with Senna and Jarno Trulli completing the order as the sun set on the first pre-season test.
COMBINED JEREZ TIMES
Pos Driver Team Best time Total laps
1. Rosberg Mercedes 1m17.613s 174
2. Grosjean Lotus 1m18.419s +0.806 212
3. Schumacher Mercedes 1m18.561s +0.948 174
4. Alonso Ferrari 1m18.877s +1.264 106
5. Webber Red Bull 1m19.184s +1.571 151
6. Vettel Red Bull 1m19.297s +1.684 146
7. Hamilton McLaren 1m19.464s +1.851 166
8. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m19.587s +1.974 157
9. Vergne Toro Rosso 1m19.597s +1.984 159
10. Raikkonen Lotus 1m19.670s +2.057 192
11. Perez Sauber 1m19.770s +2.157 116
12. Di Resta Force India 1m19.772s +2.159 170
13. Kobayashi Sauber 1m19.834s +2.221 182
14. Hulkenberg Force India 1m19.977s +2.364 90
15. Senna Williams 1m20.132s +2.519 250
16. Bianchi Force India 1m20.221s +2.608 46
17. Massa Ferrari 1m20.454s +2.841 164
18. Button McLaren 1m20.688s +3.075 147
19. Maldonado Williams 1m21.197s +3.584 122
20. Kovalainen Caterham 1m21.518s +3.905 167
21. De la Rosa HRT 1m22.128s +4.515 108
22. Trulli Caterham 1m22.198s +4.585 117
23. Van der Garde Caterham 1m23.324s +5.711 74