Recently-crowned FIA Formula Two Champion Andy Soucek impressively led the way on the opening day of the F1 young driver test at Jerez, giving his home supporters something to cheer about on a sunny day in southern Spain.

With a strong field of young hopefuls in attendance, the Spaniard leapt to the top of the order early on as he swiftly got to grips with his new mount, and would never drop out of the top four from thereon in. Participating in the test as a prize for his F2 title success, Soucek remained unflappable despite a brief spin - and out of reach of all of his pursuers, winding up just over two tenths of a second clear of his nearest rival.

"It was a dream day," enthused the 24-year-old. "I could imagine myself near the front. but I never expected to finish at the top of the times. I'm very proud of myself. but I also have to thank Williams for giving me the opportunity to turn in that performance.

"This has been an amazing year for me in terms of motorsport, and I think I deserve a seat in Formula 1 next year. I'm doing everything in my hands to secure a drive, and I think my performance in this test will help big-time."

"We were happy with how the day went," added Williams' Director of Engineering Patrick Head, clearly impressed by the Madrid native's talent behind the wheel and professional attitude outside of the car. "Andy did a good job. Despite his young age, he's quite experienced and his information about the car and its characteristics are interesting to us.

"I definitely think Andy has a future in F1, and I hope he gets the opportunity. He has all the right attributes for Formula 1, and his intelligence and driving skill will serve him well."

"I'm delighted that Andy topped the timesheets on the first day of the Jerez F1 test," concurred Jonathan Palmer, chief executive of MotorSport Vision which runs the FIA Formula Two Championship. "I was very confident from Andy's dominant F2 championship win that he would do a good job in his Williams F1 test - and he certainly has.

"He has proved he can be competitive in F1, and that is a great endorsement of the competitiveness of F2 and the equality of the F2 cars. I am particularly appreciative of the great opportunity Williams has given both Andy Soucek and F2. Everyone can now see that the championship prize of a Williams F1 test drive is of enormous value."

An eye-catching second-fastest at the end of the day was DTM front-runner and former F3 Euroseries Champion Paul di Resta, benefitting from a clear run and the much-improved Force India-Ferrari VJM02 despite only running in the afternoon. As he seeks to break into the top flight, the 23-year-old Scot certainly made a potent case for himself under the Spanish sun.

"The day was very constructive and we achieved what we wanted to achieve, which was to get familiar with the car and build up to speed slowly to fully prepare for the rest of the test," revealed the West Lothian-born ace. "We tried a few different things, worked on a few set-up items and certainly went forward - that was the main goal, just building up on my side, learning more and moving forward together with the team.

"The VJM02 is certainly impressive, and although I am still learning, I felt I could get to grips with it fairly quickly. I've driven the McLaren twice before and this experience has helped me, but for sure there's a lot of difference between the last time and now. It's obviously a new circuit and the car is built to the new regulations with slick tyres and less downforce, but it behaved as I expected and we didn't have any issues at all. We were quite fortunate in that we got a lot of time and there weren't many stoppages.

"I wasn't trying to go for a time as such, just to get the most out of the car and myself to set up for the coming two days. In the end I could set a good time, but this wasn't the overall goal. The team will have a different approach on day two and we will be testing some 2010 development parts, but the aim will be to get as much track time as possible and see how it goes. I'm looking forward to getting back in there and working with the team again."

Reigning Indy Lights Champion J.R. Hildebrand occupied the cockpit during the morning, conducting baseline runs and circuit familiarisation to prepare for the coming two days. The young American completed 49 laps and set the fifth-best time of the morning, though as track conditions improved later on he fell back to tenth in the final reckoning, 1.2 seconds adrift of di Resta.

"I was really impressed with the ability of the car," enthused the 21-year-old Californian. "It is different in every way to what I'm used to, both in terms of the outright speed and also the characteristics of the car and how it behaves, brakes and drives through corners. Having raced on ovals I'm used to a high top speed, so that wasn't too much of a shock, but the amount of load it runs and how much speed you can carry through the corner took some getting used to.

"The track was clearly improving throughout the morning, so based on the programme we were running, in terms of relative pace we were doing pretty well. I felt I was getting there and was starting to get the most out of the car, particularly towards the end of the morning. I think we still had some free time in the car.

"I lost my best lap by using a bit too much of the road, and on my last run I just flat-spotted the tyres straight out of the pits, which made a drastic difference in how good the car was and I really couldn't get the ultimate lap time from it. It was a little bit frustrating from the standpoint of losing the last two runs, but we were fifth-quickest when my day was effectively done, so I was pretty happy with my first outing."

"The programme allowed both drivers for this test some time to familiarise themselves with the car and team, and complete what amounted to a baseline for the rest of the week," summarised the Silverstone-based squad's chief race engineer Dominic Harlow. "Both of them did a very solid job, and allowed us to carry out background tests that will feed into our 2010 development. These included some aerodynamic measurements and fuel system modifications, as well as a large number of smaller items. We are satisfied with having achieved our objectives, and look forward to continuing this work on day two."

di Resta's Mercedes-Benz DTM team-mate and long-time McLaren-Mercedes test driver Gary Paffett wound up third-fastest, after completing a series of data-logging runs early on before switching to aero configuration evaluations and tyre work, looking at how they will perform in 2010 with higher fuel loads. The 28-year-old handed over to McLaren/Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award-winner Oliver Turvey later on, to enable his fellow Brit to acclimatise himself to his new surroundings ahead of his final two days in the cockpit on Wednesday and Thursday. The World Series by Renault race-winner ended the opening day's proceedings eleventh.

Fourth on the timing screens when the clock stopped was reigning British F3 Champion and Red Bull prot?g? Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a spin early on for Red Bull Racing before recovering his composure with brio and leaving the Milton Keynes-based squad impressed with his potential.

"I don't think I stopped smiling all day," quipped the Australian. "Working with the team was great, and they let me go at my own pace until I built up some confidence. After that, we began working on things that will be useful for next season. This was the first time I've ever driven a Formula 1 car round corners, having previously only done a straight-line test, and I have to say it's got more grip than anything else I've ever driven!"

2009 F3 Euroseries champion Jules Bianchi lapped fifth-quickest on his F1 testing debut for Ferrari, completing 91 laps under the watchful eye of the Scuderia's experienced test driver Andrea Bertolini, on-hand to offer encouragement and advice. After the first of his two days behind the wheel of the F60, the 20-year-old from Nice - who began driving karts at the age of just three - was effusive about the opportunity presented to him.

"I am really proud to have made my Formula 1 debut at the wheel of a Ferrari, for the greatest team in the world," he stated. "At the start, I was being careful not to make any mistakes, then once I felt confident I pushed harder. The team spirit here is incredible, and I hope I have made a positive impression on them and I want to do even better on day two."

Former British F3 Champion Mike Conway lapped sixth-quickest for Mercedes Grand Prix, as the 2009 world champions took to the track for the first time bearing their new name. The 26-year-old IndyCar series contender completed 58 laps behind the wheel of the BGP 001, acclimatising himself to the car before going on to work his way through an aerodynamic evaluation. Nineteen-year-old reigning Japanese F3 Champion Marcus Ericsson took over at the wheel in the afternoon, impressively lapping just over four tenths of a second adrift of Conway on his first outing both in an F1 car and at Jerez to place eighth on the final timesheets.

Young American Alexander Rossi split the two Mercedes' at the close of play, putting 82 laps under his belt with BMW-Sauber's F1.09 over the course of a smooth day's running. The 18-year-old - awarded the test as a result of his 2008 Formula BMW Americas title success - spent time familiarising himself with the track and machine, exchanging information and feedback with his engineers and evaluating aerodynamic and mechanical set-up changes. Rossi left the Hinwil-based outfit impressed with his pace, feedback and calm approach - as well as the manner in which he coped physically with driving an F1 car on a regular fuel load.

"I very much enjoyed this day," enthused the Californian, who now hands over to fellow F1 rookie Esteban Gutierrez for day two. "It is impressive what the car does, how predictable and precise its reactions are and how high the overall grip level is - but I have to admit I am also a little bit disappointed, because being a racing driver you always want to be the fastest!

"I think in the afternoon we didn't manage to find the perfect balance. Physically, I have to say it was as demanding as I expected it would be. The power steering is a great help compared to GP2, but the G-forces obviously are higher."

Ninth was 2009 World Series by Renault Champion Bertrand Baguette, who as a prize for his title glory has earned himself a test with the French manufacturer in its R29 - and the Belgian worked his way through a marathon 105 laps whilst trying out some new development items in preparation for 2010.

"This was my first time in an F1 car and I really enjoyed it," remarked the 23-year-old, who will hand over to young Chinese ace Ho-Pin Tung on Wednesday. "There's a huge difference between the F1 car and a World Series car, especially the efficiency of the brakes, which is incredible, and the speed you can carry through the quick corners.

"Also, it's a completely different world, and I've been getting used to working with five or six engineers instead of just one. We started the day with a long run so that I could get used to the car, and then we started the technical programme as I worked on improving the set-up of the car. It was an amazing experience for me, and I hope to do this again in the future."

"It was a good day for Bertrand and he quickly got used to the car and the systems," corroborated the Enstone-based outfit's chief race engineer Alan Permane. "To begin with we spent a bit of time adjusting the set-up to make him more comfortable in the car, but he suffered a bit with understeer throughout the day. However, he was very focussed, sensible and didn't make any mistakes as he steadily improved his lap times. He reacted well to the changes we made to the car and worked well with the engineers by giving good feedback. Overall, it has been a positive day for us and of course for Bertrand, who had his first experience of driving an F1 car."

F3 Euroseries and World Series by Renault front-runner Brendon Hartley brought up the rear of the order for Scuderia Toro Rosso, finally, on the first day of what the Red Bull 'junior' concern light-heartedly termed 'kindergarten week'. Hartley did not get off to the best of starts by spinning at the fast right-hander after the chicane early on, as he found himself caught out by different aero settings on the STR4.

Once the damage had been repaired, the New Zealander spent the rest of the day focussing on aero measurement testing in view of 2010, running the car with ballast to simulate the weight of next year's cars on full tanks and brake testing. He will hand over to FIA Formula Two Championship race-winner Mirko Bortolotti for Wednesday.

"Apart from going off the track early on, I was generally happy with the way the day went," the 20-year-old reported, "as I had not driven an F1 car for a while. I'm looking forward to making the best of Thursday when I get another run."

To see the testing times, click here