Fernando Alonso carried Renault to the top of the timesheets as pre-season testing continued at the Jerez test circuit in Spain.
Alonso’s pace on the penultimate day of running in Jerez was a welcome sign of progress for Renault after both their drivers struggled with the handling and balance of the new R29 at the first major test of the new year in Portugal.
Alonso’s fastest time of 1:19.945 was enough to put him on the top of the timesheets ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. The Spaniard reported a more consistent response from the R29.
“I’m very happy with the result from this test as we had two trouble-free days, a very consistent car and the work we have done has been very useful,” he said afterwards.
With heavy showers intervening in the teams progress on the first few days of testing it was over to the wind to provide today’s problems.
“It was really windy today, especially from mid-morning onwards, which made it difficult to understand some of the set-up changes,” Alonso explained, “but all the teams were in the same position and we were still able to learn some important things about the car.”
Nick Heidfeld was third quickest for BMW Sauber, two tenths shy of Kimi Raikkonen but ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and the recovering Mark Webber for Red Bull Racing.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton took over testing duties from McLaren teamamte Heikki Kovalainen, but a suspension failure in the morning allied to a brief spin in the afternoon saw him end the day seventh quickest, behind Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima.
“Lewis returned to the cockpit to continue the development and set-up programme that had been successfully started at the previous Jerez test,” McLaren said in their testing notes.
“A delay to fit new parts to the rear suspension caused Lewis to miss out on most of the morning s running – when the track was at its fastest – but he resumed after lunch.”
“The presence of a blustery wind and a sudden shower prompted a brief spin in the afternoon but Lewis stayed on-track and later declared himself pleased with the team s progress.”
“With focus now shifting towards MP4-24 s mechanical set-up, the car proved one of the fastest over a long run and has given the team plenty of useful information as it works to prepare for the first race of the season later this month.”
Adrian Sutil put more mileage on Force India’s new VJM02 spending most of the day working on tyre development.
“We tried the soft, supersoft and medium compounds,” he said. “On the long runs they behaved quite differently and the biggest problem was with the graining. It happens very quickly, then gets worse and the grip never comes back.
“We are talking big differences in lap times – I have never had such a big graining issue, but I can see nearly everyone is struggling with a similar problem.”
Force India’s technical director James Key added: “We had a good end to the test today. Fortunately it stayed dry again so we were able to get a lot more information.”
“We tried some different tyre compounds today, saw how they behaved and tried some set-up changes where we spotted some encouraging trends.”
With the exception of Force India and Renault, who are returning to their factories before testing kicks off in Barcelona next week, all the teams will stay on for the final day of testing in Jerez tomorrow.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Alonso Renault (B) 1:19.945 129
2. Raikkonen Ferrari (B) 1:20.250 104
3. Heidfeld BMW Sauber (B) 1:20.520 98
4. Trulli Toyota (B) 1:20.540 131
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:20.894 107
6. Nakajima Williams-Toyota (B) 1:20.948 83
7. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:21.302 70
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:21.411 79
All Timing Unofficial