Nick Heidfeld has staked the strongest possible claim in his bid to replace the injured Robert Kubica, by posting the quickest lap time for Renault on the third day of pre-season testing at Jerez in Spain.
The French squad had elected to evaluate the Grand Prix veteran in order to determine if he would be the best driver to replace their injured star, and the German has gone a long way to answering these concerns with his effort.
Heidfeld’s fastest time just fractions slower than the session-topping effort by Michael Schumacher the day before, with the lap-time posted on what appeared to be the super-soft Pirelli tyres at the beginning of an eight-lap stint, judging by the sharp drop-off in his pace in the immediate laps afterwards.
Testing started in slightly foggy conditions, while Spanish fans flocked to the Andalusian circuit in the hope of getting a glimpse of their hero, Fernando Alonso, who was making his first appearance at the circuit.
The double World Champion racked up a colossal 131 laps on the day, finishing second quickest, with a fastest lap – posted during a flurry of two- and three-lap sprints in the morning – just over a tenth slower than Heidfeld’s best effort.
The Spaniard and the Ferrari then spent the afternoon concentrating on much longer runs. One stint – a 19-lap run – produced generally impressive pace with, more importantly, little drop-off in pace as the tyres wore down.
Yesterday’s quickest driver, Michael Schumacher, finished third-fastest today, unable to better the rapid lap time he posted on the second day of the Jerez test. The seven-time World Champion circulated in the low 1m21s range on shorter runs, before switching to longer runs in the afternoon.
The W02 seemed to show much greater consistency on the longer runs, with the 42-year-old lapping within a 1.3-second range on longer runs in the first dozen laps.
Lewis Hamilton finished fourth-fastest by dint of some quick-burst running, although he lost a lot of track time in the afternoon with a technical problem, which was blighted by the team not have enough spare parts to fix it.
Kamui Kobayashi took his Sauber to fifth-quickest in his first 2011 outing at Jerez, although the Japanese driver endured two mechanical stoppages – one electrical, the other engine-related – during the day that brought out the red flags.
Sebastien Vettel finished further down the timesheets than he may have perhaps expected, with the defending World Champion performing a series of shorter five-to-eight-lap runs as the team concentrated on set-up enhancements and tyre evaluations. Vettel’s quickest lap of the day marked the only time that he dipped into the 1m21s range.
Sébastien Buemi wound up seventh-fastest, but the Swiss driver stuck predominantly to shorter runs in the Toro Rosso.
Heikki Kovalainen finished eighth overall as he took over the reins of Team Lotus’ T128, with the Finn enjoying considerably more mileage than team-mate Jarno Trulli had achieved in the two days beforehand. Lapping largely between the 1m23s and 1m26s range, his quickest lap came late in the day on a single hot lap to move up the timing sheets.
Williams and Rubens Barrichello found themselves well down the running again, with the outfit worryingly suffering more technical gremlins that limited on-track running. This time it was a KERS issue that kept the Brazilian veteran in the garage for most of the morning, with his best lap time being posted after lunch.
The lap times varied significantly, which either indicated more problems or that the team was experimenting with vastly different fuel loads. On longer runs, Barrichello lapped consistently in the 1m24s range.
Paul di Resta finished tenth overall at the end of his first outing in Force India’s new challenger, with the Scot sticking to shorter runs all day, with his lap times – similar to Barrichello’s – fluctuating quite a bit. The Scottish rookie also complained about his brakes, as evidenced by him spinning into the kitty litter at Turn 9 with half and hour of the day to run.
Jérôme d’Ambrosio finished slowest of all at the end of the day, with his best effort over five seconds slower than Heidfeld and some 2.5 seconds down on the next-slowest man, di Resta.
Longer runs saw the Belgian rookie lapping in the high 1m20s to low 1m30s range, indicating that the team – and perhaps the driver – have a way to go before they can bed down a decent set-up in the new car.
The final day of pre-season at Jerez testing kicks off on Sunday, before the teams mover on to Barcelona for the third of four pre-season tests.
Jerez Pre-Season Test (Day 3) Lap Times:
|1.||Nick Heidfeld||Renault R31||1:20.361||86|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150th Italia||+ 0.132||131|
|3.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||+ 0.693||114|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 0.738||36|
|5.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 0.881||84|
|6.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 1.213||98|
|7.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 1.320||92|
|8.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 1.350||61|
|9.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 1.866||99|
|10.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.584||64|
|11.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 5.110||72|