Nico Rosberg ensured that a 2011-spec car topped the timesheets for the second consecutive day at Jerez, resetting the fastest lap of the week so far.

The German replaced countryman Michael Schumacher behind the wheel of the lone W02 for what was to be the final day of Mercedes' initial run-out, which largely consisted of the Brackley team evaluating the latest range of Pirelli tyres.

Having shaken off the winter rust on the opening day on Tuesday, Rosberg completed 118 laps which also allowed the team to put more mileage on 2012 development items on the car. In all, Mercedes completed 1541km in its three days, gathering comprehensive knowledge of the new tyres with varying set-ups and fuel loads before its 2012 car, the W03, makes its public test debut in Barcelona.

"I'm happy with the testing that we have achieved here in Jerez, and we learned a lot about the Pirelli tyres and a few other things for the new car," Rosberg confirmed, "It seems that the tyres are closer performance-wise this year, with the rear tyres also looking a bit stronger. Pirelli have done a good job so far.

"You can't really compare the lap times with other teams, but it was interesting to learn a lot with our 2011 car. Now I'm really looking forward to the two Barcelona tests with our new Silver Arrow."

Rosberg's fastest lap beat Schumacher's Wednesday best by almost a second and proved to be eight-tenths quicker than anyone else managed on the day.

Second fastest was Lotus' 'other' returnee, Romain Grosjean, who started the day by vaulting to the top of the times, and ended it by running out of fuel on his final outing.

The Frenchman mirrored new team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by remaining at the sharp end of the times for the entire day, eventually edging out both reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and predecessor Lewis Hamilton by eight-tenths and one second respectively. It is thought that Grosjean was attempting a late flying run when his E20 ran dry, stranding him on the circuit and bringing out the red flags which eventually turned to the chequer and ended the day on a quiet note.

Vettel got his first taste of the new RB8 after replacing Mark Webber behind, and enjoyed a largely trouble-free run once temperatures had risen high enough to make running meaningful.

"It's been two months since we were in the car, so it does take a couple of laps to get back in the rhythm, but the car feels fine and as we expected," the German noted after 96 tours of the Jerez circuit, "There's quite a loss of grip due to the regulation changes, but you get used to it quickly and then start to explore how the new car feels. So far, we can be happy, we had a couple of issues, but it's normal when the car is new."

Hamilton was just under a couple of tenths behind his rival, having taken over the McLaren MP4-27 from Jenson Button, who had conducted the early evaluation work. Having acclimatised to his new 'office', the Briton joined Vettel in taking his turn at the head of the times, but continued with McLaren's prescribed development programme, finding a workable set-up direction and ironing out a few minor issues in the course of 80 laps.

"Today felt pretty good considering it was my first time in the new car," he acknowledged, "My initial feelings are pretty positive, despite going through a long, tough programme of initial tests - there were no nasty surprises, which is pleasing.

"This year's car feels a bit different from last year's as, in 2011, we had so much stability from the rear-end, particularly in the high-speed corners. Now we're having to find that grip elsewhere, or at least take grip off the front and somehow offload it at the rear.

"This car's baseline is something we can really work with. I know the men and women back at the factory will take a lot from this test and translate it into something new and even better for the next test. The car feels reasonably quick - and that's a nice feeling."

The McLaren man ended the day sandwiched between two Red Bull cars, with Toro Rosso rookie Jean-Eric Vergne performing solidly to claim fifth spot. Initial priority was given to getting the Frenchman settled in the STR7, before the team worked through an extensive aero test programme.

As a result, the newcomer completed a lot of short runs, collecting data for different aero configurations in conditions that were more conducive to the work that the high winds which confronted team-mate Daniel Ricciardo on Wednesday. A longer run was then completed in the afternoon, with more of the same planned for Vergne on the final day.

"My first feeling when I got in the cockpit was a positive one," the WSbR graduate reported, "The car seems to have a good base from which we can progress over the winter tests. In general, it was a positive day for me and the team and I am happy with the work we got through.

"I still need to work on my seating position in the car to make it perfect and I'm looking forward to making more progress tomorrow."

While the five drivers ahead of him with either getting their first taste of a car this season, or returning to the cockpit after making way for a team-mate on day two, Sergio Perez remained in situ to continue Sauber's programme.

He made a promising start by posting good early lap times on a cold track and medium compound tyres, but, shortly before lunchtime, it became clear that the gearbox oil filter needed changing. As the result of the time the procedure took, the Mexican's mileage was limited thereafter, denying the opportunity to improve his time.

"It was a difficult day for us, but the important thing is that we are improving," Perez admitted, "Every step we took went in the right direction. Kamui [Kobayashi] has another day of testing here tomorrow, and, obviously, he will have an intense programme, but I hope we can finish the Jerez test with a productive day."

Despite his problems, Perez still managed to finish ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who took over the F2012 from Felipe Massa for the first time.

The Spaniard continued the week-long task of gathering data on the behaviour of the new car, covering a total of 67 laps, but had his progress interrupted by an hydraulic problem halfway through the morning, which cost him 90 minutes of track time. When he returned to the circuit, however, there was little sign of Alonso bettering Massa's previous best time by any great margin, the pair both recording fastest laps in the 1min 20.4secs bracket.

If Alonso was marooned in timesheet 'no mans land', behind him Bruno Senna was similarly adrift of anyone, posting a 1min 21.293secs best that proved eight-tenths slower than the Ferrari but two seconds faster than new Caterham reserve Giedo van der Garde, who was likewise getting his first taste of his new car.

"It was a great day today," the Brazilian nevertheless claimed, "Although there is a lot of work to do outside the car as well as in it, it was very satisfying to finally get behind the wheel. We have had a very productive day and managed to cover all of the things we needed to. We found some interesting things out about the tyres in particular.

"I feel that there is a lot of potential in the FW34 and also in myself driving the car. The team has done a great job and I'm happy we have had a trouble-free day. I'm now looking forward to continuing our test programme tomorrow to learn more about the car."

Without a time at all was Force India which, after seeing new reserve Jules Bianchi and Paul di Resta post promising times on day two, had to miss all but three laps of the third session after the Frenchman went off early on. Although the damage was limited, the repair required a part that was not to hand, and Nico Hulkenberg's run had to be canned, leaving the German a frustrated bystander.

"I made a small mistake on my second run - the tyres were a bit cold and I spun into the gravel and touched the wall with the right rear wheel," Bianchi explained, "It was not a very big impact, but it caused some damage. I'm very sorry because my mistake has cost the team a lot of time and effort.

"Going away from here I want to focus on the positives because we had a very good day yesterday and I've really enjoyed working with the team this week."

With the necessary brake part due to arrive before the team packs up for the night, Hulkenberg is expected to get his first taste of the VJM05 on Friday, when he will be joined on track by Grosjean, Vettel, Hamilton, Vergne, Kobayashi, Alonso and Senna respectively.