Fernando Alonso claimed the fastest time of the day as the opening F1 group test of 2012 drew to a close at Jerez, but did so amid claims that the run was designed more to appease the tifosi than develop the car.

The Spaniard completed fewer laps than any of his rivals as Ferrari waited for parts to be fitted to the F2012, but still managed a run where two of his timed passes proved to be better than anyone else would manage in eight hours of action on a sunny, but chilly, day in southern Spain.

With the Scuderia continuing to acquire data relating to the behaviour of its new machine, Alonso completed a lot of laps at either a constant speed or to a predefined procedure as he compared various set-up configurations.

At the end of just 39 laps, the double world champion's best effort stood at 1min 18.877secs, some way off the 1min 17.6secs benchmark established by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg on day three, and also behind Romain Grosjean's best for Lotus on the same day. Having admitted that there are still issues with the car that need to be ironed out, however, Alonso's performance hints at a low fuel run aimed at heading off early criticism - and pressure - in the Italian press.

More importantly, Ferrari was able to log nearly 1200km with the combination of Alonso and Felipe Massa behind the wheel, giving it valuable data with which to continue fine-tuning the car.

Toro Rosso continued its solid start to the 'winter' season, with rookie Jean-Eric Vergne claiming second spot on the timesheets. The Frenchman continued to acclimatise to his new surroundings, but posted a solid 1min 19.597secs to keep the Faenza team ahead of its rivals.

"A good second day for me as we worked through everything on our work plan and completed a lot of kilometres," Vergne reported, "After making some adjustments, I feel more comfortable in the car and I can also get an understanding of the effect of the set-up changes that we tried and they seem to have moved us forward."

Vergne's effort, STR's best of the week, was enough to keep it ahead of sister team Red Bull Racing, although the British-based outfit will be quick to point to the electrical issue that stranded world champion Sebastian Vettel in the pits for all but two installation laps in the morning.

The German returned to the track after the relevant part was replaced and the engine changed as a precautionary measure, and then completed another 48 laps as he worked both through RBR's planned programme and up the order.

"I'm happy with the progress we've made, I think we managed to get a lot done," Vettel said, "Of course, this morning was a bit of a setback, but these things happen.

"Something like this is simply part of testing, this is the reason why we are here. Of course, we would like to get more laps done, but that can't be changed now. So we go back to the factory, look at everything we have learned from this week and prepare for the next test in Barcelona."

Vettel's effort from day three was enough to secure sixth spot on the combined charts, behind Rosberg - who missed day four along with his Mercedes team - Grosjean, Michael Schumacher, Alonso and RBR team-mate Mark Webber.

Vettel again edged out McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, the Briton ending the day just 0.034secs behind his rival. It was Hamilton's second day in the MP4-27 and he completed 86 laps of aero and suspension evaluations.

"The first hour or so was spent aero data gathering, then Lewis embarked on two or three hours intensive set-up work, exploring suspension geometries and general car set-up," team manager David Redding commented, "The afternoon was then spent comparing tyre compounds.

"We had the opportunity to try some changes that were time-consuming, so things you wouldn't normally do at a race weekend, and it was good to get those fundamental changes and tests out of the way early on. The car ran reliably and without any issues."

Grosjean ended the day in fifth spot for Lotus, after further system checks, temperature monitoring, data correlation and evaluation of the performance of the E20 with its initial aerodynamic package. The Frenchman completed another 95 laps, but was unable to match his best effort from day three, coming up 1.3secs shy with a time of 1min 19.729secs, although unreliability extended only as far as minor water leaks.

"Everything is feeling good," Grosjean reported, "This morning, we tried a number of different things on the car, including my first run on the soft tyre. In the afternoon, we tried longer runs.

"Once it warmed up, the track temperature was hotter than yesterday, which helps our understanding of the E20 in different conditions.

"It's strange to think that we are already a third of the way through pre-season testing. We are pushing to get as much achieved as possible. I'm really enjoying being in the car even though it is hard work. So far my fitness has been good, my neck's not too bad, but we'll see how it feels tomorrow! I think everyone will benefit from next week away from the circuit so we can reflect on the data then go to Barcelona with some new parts for the car. I can't wait."

Sauber and Force India remained tied together, much as they were in 2011, with the former's Kamui Kobayashi just getting the better of Nico Hulkenberg.

The Japanese driver returned to the cockpit of the new C31 for the fourth and final day but, after working on set-up, aero comparisons and tyre evaluation in the morning, found his subsequent programme hampered by a hydraulic leak that caused him to stop on track with two hours to go.

Thanks to the speedy work of the Sauber mechanics, he was able to put in another 18 laps in the final hour, bringing the team's track time up to 1320km for the week.

"If I look at the whole picture, I am happy with the first test and, for sure, we have found the right direction to go in," Kobayashi revealed, "The car didn't surprise us with any big issues, which allowed us to work on improvements straight away.

"We lost track time due to small problems, but I want to thank the mechanics for all their work. Today, especially, they did a great job to get me out on track again and, in the end, I did 76 laps, which isn't too bad. We have some ideas of what our next steps will be and I'm very much looking forward to the Barcelona tests."

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, was getting his first taste of Force India's new VJM05, after being denied the chance to run it on Thursday afternoon when team-mate Jules Bianchi crashed in the morning session. Although the car was only lightly damaged, the mechanics had to wait for extra parts to be flown in overnight, before the German could finally take the wheel.

While Hulkenberg got a feel for the car, the team carried out a mixture of aero work, tyre data collection and some longer runs, all in the space of 90 laps. The team's best lap of the day came in at 1min 19.977secs, putting Hulkenberg just over a second off the ultimate pace, but in good company with the likes of Vettel and Hamilton.

"It was a busy first day in the car, but good to get so many laps under my belt," the driver admitted, "It was my first time in the new car so I concentrated on getting comfortable and up to speed. The long runs were useful for that and it also allowed me to start understanding the new tyres.

"There is still a massive amount to learn and lots of data to look at, but it feels like we have a good baseline to develop from and I'm pleased with how the day went."

Williams again ran Bruno Senna in its 2012 machine, the Brazilian completing the planned programme of set-up evaluation with a full race simulation. Other than twice stopping out on track with minor niggles, the day passed off without a hitch.

"It's been another productive day with us testing a number of different set-up directions and finding out a lot more about the car," Senna reported, "It has continued to show good reliability as we completed 124 laps today, which is very satisfying. I'm happy to have started my first two days in the car for Williams on a very good note."

With HRT having packed up after two days, Caterham was left to bring up the rear of the field, as veteran Jarno Trulli ventured out for his first run in the CT01.

"My first impression of the car was that it is good - a definite progression from 2011 and a good basis for us to work on for the season ahead," the Italian commented after 117 laps, "Its reliability has been demonstrated all week here in Jerez and we have generated a lot of data, particularly on KERS and the 2012 tyres which will help us improve set-ups for the next couple of tests.

"We know there's a lot more to come in pure pace - perhaps we were the only team to run without dropping the fuel - but we wanted to focus on running through the development programme and making sure we completed the plan each day.

"For me, there are a couple of real positives from today. I hadn't used KERS before and, despite the extra buttons it means on the wheel, it's pretty simple to get used to it quickly. I think we'll see the benefits of that more and more as we keep learning how to get the most out of it. Also, for me the car felt balanced pretty much straight away. The power steering is good - we can keep fine tuning it, but I think it's basically a good package with a lot of potential for us to work on. A good way to start the season."

All eleven teams that appeared in Jerez are now expected to reappear in Barcelona on 21 February, with Mercedes likely to unveil its 2012 challenger. Marussia and, possibly, HRT, may opt to sit out the session pending the arrival of their delayed machines.


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