Nick Heidfeld’s chance of landing the Renault drive, in place of the injured Robert Kubica, received a bolster shot yesterday.
The veteran completed 86 laps around the Jerez circuit in southern Spain, clocking up a fastest lap of 1:20.361 in the process. During his runs, Heidfeld tested an upgraded floor while also carrying out further evaluations of the new Pirelli tyres.
Kubica wrestled his R31 to the top of the time sheets at last week’s test in Valencia, but questions remain about the true pace of Renault’s 2011 charger, compared to what Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren may achieve.
The former Sauber driver claimed the top spot ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who managed several runs totalling 131 laps – easily the busiest any one driver has been on a day this week. Indeed the Spaniard ran a number of long runs during the afternoon as team begin to gather knowledge about potential race strategies.
Michael Schumacher continued his positive test week in the Mercedes. The seven-time World Champion registered the 3rd best time of the day, albeit seven-tenths down on Heidfeld; however the German was busy throughout the day, notching up 114 laps.
One driver who had plenty of time on his hands was Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren had very little running during Saturday due to a lack of spare parts (not arriving until Sunday), meaning Hamilton could only complete 36 laps before calling it a day. His best lap still put him for on the time sheets, one-tenth quicker than the next tester, Kamui Kobayashi.
This was the Sauber driver’s first test in the new C30 since the opening day at Valencia and he put it to good use, registering 84 laps throughout the day. It was a day of discovery for the Swiss squad as added some minor developments to the new machine, while also learning more about the Pirelli’s.
Further back were reigning champion, Sebastian Vettel (6th) in the Red Bull RB and Sebastien Buemi (7th) in the sister car, the Toro Rosso STR6. Both ran over 90 laps each, with Vettel bettering Buemi on the timesheets by just 0.1 of-a-second, although whether this is borne out come the first race weekend remains to be seen. Buemi’s session ended slightly earlier than everyone else’s as his Toro Rosso shut down with ten minutes to go.
Lotus continued to show good progress with their T128 design. Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen completed a 61 lap day, with a fastest 1.35 seconds down on Heidfeld; something that could not be said for Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian was only able to guide his Williams to 9th quickest, although he did garner 99 valuable laps of Jerez. There may well have been more running for the grove squad had there not been an issue with the KERS onboard cooling system.
Only Paul di Resta (10th, Force India) and Jerome d’Ambrosio (11th, Virgin) were slower than Barrichello, as both rookies continue to get used to both their new roles and their new cars. During the day, di Resta suffered from braking issues, while d’Ambrosio worked on getting used to the Nick Wirth designed MVR-02.
Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps 1. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m20.361s 86 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m20.493s + 0.132s 131 3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m21.054s + 0.693s 114 4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.099s + 0.738s 36 5. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m21.242s + 0.881s 84 6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.574s + 1.213s 98 7. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m21.681s + 1.320s 92 8. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m21.711s + 1.350s 61 9. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m22.227s + 1.866s 99 10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m22.945s + 2.584s 64 11. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m25.471s + 5.110s 72