The second Jerez test has been quite a frustrating affair for the teams, but at least they are all in the same boat.
Today there was plenty of dry running, but nevertheless the shortage of track days and the amount of them which have been wet has serious limited the teams’ ability to learn about the new Bridgestone tyres for this season.
There are now just five days left of testing, unless an extra day in Barcelona is granted by the Testing committee. And although Bridgestone have brought with them the soft, medium and hard compounds from the range, time is short for properly evaluating their characteristics. Today was therefore an important opportunity for the teams to compare different tyre compounds.
Today Mark Webber was fastest in the Red Bull, setting a lap in the 1m 19.2s, on the the first lap of a short three lap run on soft tyres, which is the fastest time at Jerez in either of the tests. Webber went on to do a comparison between the soft and the medium tyre, which looked fast and consistent. But, allowing for fuel loads, the fastest runner appeared once again to be Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who was second on the time sheets as Ferrari continue to rack up the miles. Alonso did 132 laps today.
Alonso covered a comprehensive programme with a tyre comparison between the soft, medium and hard Bridgestone tyres with two very strong runs on the soft in particular. He set his fastest time on the first lap of a 13 lap run on soft tyres and went on to have consistent lap times in the 1m 20s.
Schumacher and Hulkenberg both worked exclusively on the medium tyre today, Hulkenberg doing a series of long runs which looked very consistent.
There were quite a few stoppages for cars broken down on the circuit and a strong wind seemed to bother quite a few people, but nevertheless teams covered a high mileage.
“We’re showing some good form in terms of reliability,” said Webber. “But we always need to work on performance, you never know what the others are doing. We are in a good position.”
Felipe Massa confirmed the picture which is emerging from the engineers involved in the testing, “Last year at the Barcelona test we discovered that there was one car which was much stronger than the rest (the Brawn),” he said. “So far this year there isn’t one car faster than the rest, we’re looking at a very competitive championship. The Red Bull looks strong, as expected. They were the fastest at the end of last season. I hope to be fighting them for the win from the first race.”
Engineers who are analysing the data from the tests continue to stress how close it is between the established teams. The order isn’t definitive yet, as it will shift next week when many teams bring their definitive Bahrain aerodynamic kits to the final Barcelona test. But Ferrari seems to be at the front while Renault seem a little behind the other established teams, but probably no more than 7/10ths off the Ferrari.
Sauber had real bad luck today with a fuel system problem restricting Kamui Kobayashi to just 28 laps on a day when it was essential to get the maximum workload covered.
There are still a lot of question marks about the composition of the grid. Off track there has been plenty of activity today, with a meeting of investors at Campos HQ in Spain, which resulted in Jose Ramon Carabante taking over the team and installing former Midland team principal Colin Kolles as team principal (see separate story). Elsewhere, the USF1 team underlined via Twitter that they are still in business, despite rumours to the contrary and Stefan GP fired up their engine for the first time. USF1 driver Jose Maria Lopez came to London for a meeting with Bernie Ecclestone.
Common sense tells you that an amalgamation of USF1 and Campos would make one strong team and many people close to the action are suggesting that. Meanwhile team boss Zoran Stefanovitch confirmed to Autosport today that he has a deal with Kazuki Nakajima and is in negotiation with 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve. But there are a lot of rumours and denials flying around. One thing is for certain; Ecclestone is in the middle of this situation trying to get an outcome he can work with.
The two new teams that have made it to the test, Virgin and Lotus, had some more problems today, Lotus had a clutch issue, while Virgin had a couple of stoppages due to a repeat of hydraulic issues. Lucas di Grassi has not done much mileage so far in testing. The Virgin ended up a fraction ahead of the Lotus on this occasion. Heikki Kovalainen has said that the basics of the Lotus car are sound, it is just a bit heavy still and not optimised for high speed corners. Both new cars look rather unrefined in comparison with the established teams, but nevertheless for brand new cars from new teams they are impressive.
The test concludes tomorrow.
HEADLINE LAP TIMES – JEREZ DAY 3
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:19.299 115 Laps
2. Alonso Ferrari 1:20.115 132
3. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:20.394 101
4. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:21.432 138
5. M.Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:21.437 79
6. Kubica Renault 1:21.916 100
7. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:21.939 69
8. Kobayashi BMW-Sauber 1:22.228 28
9. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:22.564 120
10. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:23.504 34
11. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:23.521 68