Nico Rosberg ensured Mercedes ended day three of preseason testing at Jerez on top, while Romain Grosjean and Lotus were the fastest of the 2012-spec cars.
Times fell little in the afternoon of day three, which was as notable for driver changes as it was for on-track action – Sebastian Vettel (LEFT), Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso among those getting their first taste of their new machines.
Grosjean, too, made his first appearance in the Lotus E20, but needed little time for adjustment as he got down to a 1m18.419s – the fastest time from a 2012 car thus far in testing – before the midway stage. That left him a healthy eight tenths clear of his 2012 competition, which was headed by Vettel in the RB8 and Hamilton in the MP4-27.
The Briton had headed Vettel as the midday break loomed, but the German found time in what was generally a slower afternoon to jump back in front, ending the day 0.167sec ahead of Hamilton.
They were all left trailing by Rosberg, however, with the German comfortably fastest on what was the team's final day of testing at Jerez – and the final day for its 2011 car, with this year's model set to be introduced at the next test in Barcelona.
Jean-Eric Vergne ended the day fifth fastest for Toro Rosso, just 36 thousandths ahead of Sergio Perez, whose day was interrupted by an oil transmission issue. The Mexican's fastest time was set on medium compounds and in the cold conditions of the early morning. Those conditions caught out Jules Bianchi, who assumed driving duties in the morning for Force India but was unable to set a representative time.
The Frenchman lost the rear end and skipped across the gravel at Sito Pons, bringing out the first of the day's three red flags – the second coming after Giedo van Der Garde beached his car in the gravel and the third just before the checkered flag as Grosjean stopped out on circuit.
Force India was unable to repair the damage, with Nico Hulkenberg therefore unable to take over in the afternoon. He will hope to get his first taste of the car tomorrow as they scramble to get parts out from the UK.
Seventh fastest was claimed by Alonso, who completed 67 laps in another low-key day for Ferrari.
Bruno Senna completed 125 laps – the most of any driver – for Williams, ending the day in eighth. Van der Garde, who was able to rejoin once his car had been recovered, was ninth.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Rosberg Mercedes 1m17.613s 118
2. Grosjean Lotus 1m18.419s +0.806 117
3. Vettel Red Bull 1m19.297s +1.684 96
4. Hamilton McLaren 1m19.464s +1.851 80
5. Vergne Toro Rosso 1m19.734s +2.121 79
6. Perez Sauber 1m19.770s +2.157 48
7. Alonso Ferrari 1m20.412s +2.799 67
8. Senna Williams 1m21.293s +3.680 125
9. Van der Garde Caterham 1m23.324s +5.711 74