McLaren-Mercedes finally appeared at the top of the testing timesheets on the penultimate day of pre-season Formula 1 preparations before the teams travel Down Under to Australia - with Heikki Kovalainen lapping comfortably clear of Williams' Kazuki Nakajima at Jerez.

Granted, there were only two cars out on-track at the southern Spanish circuit, but still Kovalainen was almost a full second quicker than the fastest marker laid down by defending F1 World Champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton the previous day, and that will doubtless hand the Woking-based outfit a much-needed boost following the troublesome birth of its aerodynamically-afflicted MP4-24.

The Finn immediately resumed the team's week-long programme of introducing and evaluating aerodynamic modifications for its new challenger, with perfect weather conditions making for an extremely productive day, in terms of evaluating both the lap time potential of the new components and also their effectiveness over the course of a simulated race stint. Kovalainen will wrap up McLaren's pre-season work on Thursday.

Nakajima, for his part, similarly conducted final preparations of the FW31 for Williams, with the young Japanese ace focussing his efforts on set-up tuning, aero work, reliability checks and tyre testing.

"Kazuki spent our penultimate day in Jerez working on mechanical set-up and signing off final components for the first race in Melbourne," revealed the Grove-based concern's technical director Sam Michael. "He'll be in the car again tomorrow for the final day of winter testing."

Leading performances - Jerez (18 March):

1. Heikki Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 1min 18.202secs 85 laps
2. Kazuki Nakajima Williams-Toyota 1min 20.023secs 103 laps

Track/weather conditions: Very warm and sunny. Maximum track temperature 37.2?C; maximum ambient temp 20.9?C.

all times unofficial - courtesy of McLaren-Mercedes

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