Rubens Barrichello has finally enjoyed some much-improved reliability – and, more importantly, pace – by taking his Williams FW33 to the top of the timesheets on the final day of pre-season testing at Jerez, setting the fastest lap across the four-day test Rubens Barrichello session at the Andalusian circuit.

The Brazilian veteran posted his quickest time on the last of a sequence of eight-lap runs that he ran in the morning of the session, as he enjoyed plenty of mileage after the team had been blighted by a series of time-consuming mechanical gremlins in the three days beforehand.

After producing that lap time – where he was the only driver to lap below 1m20s – his times dropped by 1.3 seconds, although only fading by a further 1.2 seconds over the rest of the stint.

The Brazilian also posted the longest sequence of laps in a stint – 25 in total – running in the high 1m26s early on, before slipping to 1m29s by the end of the run, giving indication that the new-for-2011 Pirellis suffer considerable degradation.

But the day wasn’t completely without hassle for Williams, as Barrichello was momentarily sidelined by a hydraulics leak in the closing hours, which triggered one of many red flags to interrupt the day’s running.

Williams wasn’t the only outfit to endure stoppages, with Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Rosberg all enduring crucial losses of track time in their 2011 challengers.

Cloudy conditions greeted the eleven teams for the final day of running at the former Grand Prix venue, and there were forecasts that rain might hit the track in the afternoon. Conditions were chilly when the track opened at 9am local time, with the mercury barely nudging 9°C (48.2°F), and track temperatures just 1°C warmer.

The late afternoon saw the clouds roll in and light ran begin to fall, and the four drivers who ventured out did so on the Pirelli intermediates, the first time any of the 2011 season drivers has experienced this rubber. Sébastien Buemi went quickest of this quartet during this brief period, which was perhaps too short to interpret anything particularly meaningul.

Second-fastest Kamui Kobayashi posted a best lap some 0.8 seconds slower than Barrichello’s best, but the Japanese driver blotted his copybook with a spin into the gravel during the morning. His fastest lap was something of an anomaly relative to his usual pace, which tended to hover around the 1m22s range on his shorter runs. The afternoon – aside from being interrupted by a drivetrain issue – was spent doing longer runs, with his lap times dropping off by less than a second over these laps, which were presumably spent on the harder Pirelli tyres.

Hometown hero Fernando Alonso racked up more mileage – Ferrari boasted over 3,000km to-date in the F150th Italia – and finished third-quickest, with his best lap occurring on a short stint in the morning, before he switched to longer runs in the afternoon. His longer runs were between 16 and 20 laps in length, featuring a drop-off in pace of around 2 seconds from start to finish.

Toro Rosso’s driver Buemi finished fourth-quickest, adopting a similar pattern of short runs in the morning and longer runs in the afternoon.

Bruno Senna Bruno Senna – considered a long-odds candidate against Nick Heidfeld for the now-vacant Renault seat – finished fifth-quickest in his first outing in the team’s R31. The Brazilian seemed to spend most of the day concentrating on racking up some development miles on the new car, as opposed to gunning for a quick lap.

A surprising sixth-quickest was Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus T128, who spent most of his day lapping in the 1m21s and 1m22s range on shorter runs, before banging in a time that was a tenth faster than his best effort the day before. He was briefly sidelined with a water leak during the day, however.

Seventh fastest was Nico Rosberg, who was unable to repeat the timesheet-topping efforts of Mercedes GP team-mate Michael Schumacher from two days’ ago – which will no doubt spark rumours among some that the W02 is designed for the seven-time World Champion’s tastes than Rosberg’s. The German also lost crucial time when the team changed his V8 engine, after he stopped on-track in the morning.

Sebastien Vettel Sebastian Vettel continued not to feature much at the sharp end of the timing screens in his Red Bull, piloting the RB7 to be just eighth-fastest overall, with his fastest time occurring early in the day on a short run before he switched to longer, seemingly heavily-fuelled runs, where he lapped consistently in the 1m25s and 1m26s range on stints of just under 20 laps long.

McLaren also avoided chasing a headline-grabbing lap time with Jenson Button at the wheel of the MP4-26 and concentrating mostly on longer runs, where he posted similar lap times to Vettel. The 2009 World Champion was not happy with the handling characteristics of his new car, and was also sidelined with a stint in the garages in the afternoon due to an unspecified mechanical problem.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio completed the least mileage of the eleven drivers today, although Jerome D'Ambrosio the Belgian rookie improved a considerable improvement in pace, judging by his fastest lap being only three seconds adrift – as opposed to over five yesterday – of the fastest lap of the day. He stopped on track in the morning with that the team claimed was would be a quick repair to a faulty oil sensor, but he remained in the garages for over four hours before rejoining for a short run later in the afternoon.

At the foot of the timesheets again was Paul di Resta in the new Force India VJM04, which the team is still seemingly getting to grips with. The Scot also suffered a slide into the gravel at the Dry Sack hairpin with half an hour to go due to a front suspension failure.

The third pre-season test session kicks off on Friday at the Circuit de Catalunya.


Jerez Pre-Season Test (Day 4) Lap Times:

  Driver   Team Time Laps
1. Rubens Barrichello BRZ Williams Cosworth FW33 1:19.832 103
2. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C30 + 0.769 86
3. Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari F150th Italia + 1.242 115
4. Sébastien Buemi Sui Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 + 1.381 90
5. Bruno Senna BRZ Renault R31 + 1.568 68
6. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus Renault T128 + 1.800 43
7. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes GP W02 + 2.271 45
8. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault RB7 + 2.390 90
9. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 + 2.446 70
10. Jérôme d’Ambrosio BEL Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 + 3.153 45
11. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 + 3.279 99

[Original images via GP Update, LAT and Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.