Sebastian Vettel gave the first real indication of the potency of this year's Red Bull Racing challenger by setting the pace on the opening day of the third Formula One group test of the year, at Jerez.
As intermittent rain once again disrupted proceedings in southern Spain, Vettel took the RB6-Renault to the top of the times with a lap of 1min 22.593secs as he racked up over 100 tours. Testing was heavily affected by the wet conditions, with heavy rain overnight and during the morning forcing initial runs to be carried out on wet tyres and curtailing the team's planned aero and mechanical set-up testing. A break in the weather over lunch provided some dry running in the early afternoon, before the return of the rain was accompanied by the brief loss of the official timing system.
“We got a lot of laps done and the car has been good and reliable," head of race engineering Ian Morgan revealed, "We've made a few small changes, but we didn't get through as much as the programme as we'd hoped because of the weather. Sebastian and the car were consistent on the long runs in the dry which is promising. We're continuing to make steady progress; the car is better than it was last week and every time we turn a wheel we seem to be moving forward a little bit.”
The changeable conditions made progress frustratingly slow for everyone, as meaningful running could not be achieved without the arrival of either a rain shower or a red-flag period. However, McLaren made the best of the track time available to continue with the development of its MP4-25, making solid progress with the balance and set-up based largely on thorough evaluation of and response to the data gathered at last week's running at Jerez.
Although Lewis Hamilton caused an early red flag during the morning's running when his car was stopped by a minor systems error., he ran without problems thereafter and was able to achieve some encouraging lap times as he conducted several long runs, amassing 72 laps - and more than 300km - by the time the chequered flag fell, although he remained half a second off the pace.
Ferrari, meanwhile, followed up two days of on-track promotional work with Giancarlo Fisichella at the wheel by installing Felipe Massa in a brand new F10 chassis. The Brazilian headed out for a systems check shortly after 9am, while the track was still wet from overnight rain, but his programme had to be adjusted as the weather continued to work against the Scuderia for the remainder of the day. The new car didn't sport any major updates over last week's Jerez test, although minor aerodynamic and mechanical updates were in evidence ahead of a more comprehensive overhaul scheduled for next week's Barcelona test finale.
Massa completed a total 50 laps, the fastest of which put him third overall in a time of 1min 23.204secs. A small problem forced him to a halt on track at the end of the morning session, when he was sitting at the top of the times, but the day was otherwise uneventful as the team worked on evaluating tyres in the adverse conditions.
Sebastien Buemi again provided encouragement for Toro Rosso, posting the fifth fastest time in the course of 79 laps in chassis STR5-02. Looking on the bright side, the team made the most of the weather to acquire useful data regarding the optimum switching point between dry, intermediate and extreme wet tyres. Also on the agenda was a brake system evaluation and, fortunately, there were enough dry laps available for Buemi to complete the programme.
Pedro de la Rosa also used the day to try out all the different tyre specifications on Sauber's C29, completing 76 laps and winding up fifth fastest on another encouraging day for the reborn team.