As had been the case in Barcelona three weeks' previously, Scuderia Toro Rosso emerged on top on the opening day of testing around the Jerez de la Frontera Circuit - even if most of the day was spent in the garage for many drivers, after very un-Spanish-like rain lashed the Andalucian venue.

STR will once again run S?bastien Buemi, namesake and 2008 incumbent S?bastien Bourdais and out-of-work Super Aguri F1 refugee Takuma Sato at Jerez, with the former - seen as hot favourite to occupy one of the Red Bull 'junior' concern's berths next season - due to run throughout, and Bourdais and Sato set to share the cockpit of the second Ferrari-powered STR3, as the pair fight over the remaining seat at the small Faenza-based outfit in 2009.

With a cool, damp track surface and heavy fog in the morning, and rain showers interrupting the afternoon running, the two cars took to the circuit in the same configuration as that in which they had run at Barcelona, with downforce levels replicating those expected from the new aerodynamic rules for next year and on Bridgestone's 'soft' slick rubber.

Both drivers concentrated on set-up work, with Buemi additionally assessing various aero options, and the afternoon provided the opportunity for a comparison run between this year's rain tyre and a development tyre for 2010.

Third and fourth respectively on the end-of-day timesheets - a second adrift of Bourdais after completing just 47 laps between them - were the two McLaren-Mercedes' of the Woking-based squad's evenly-matched test drivers Gary Paffett and Pedro de la Rosa. The Briton - tipped to finally make his belated grand prix debut with Force India next year [see separate story - click here] - evaluated KERS boost levels in a specially-adapted MP4-23K, with the Spaniard focussing on set-up work.

Paffett will make way for race driver Heikki Kovalainen on day two, to enable the Finn to get his first taste of KERS, whilst de la Rosa will conduct further aero work aboard a more heavily 2009-modified MP4-23A.

2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen ended the day fifth, one-and-a-half seconds shy of the leading pace as the Finn returned to action exactly a month to the day when he had last taken to the circuit, during the Ferrari World Finals at Mugello in Italy. The 29-year-old - who will be joined on the second day by team-mate, 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa - completed 48 laps as he concentrated on set-up work, a long test run for the engine and getting more experience of the 2009-style slick tyres.

"I'm glad to be back on the track," Raikkonen confessed. "[It was a] shame that there was so much rain in the afternoon, because it would have been useful to test some situations we had problems with during the last season. It shouldn't rain tomorrow, though, and we'll drive a bit more."

Nick Heidfeld wound up sixth-quickest for BMW-Sauber at the close of proceedings, with the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's test driver Christian Klien bringing up the rear of the nine drivers present having covered just 15 tours due to a precautionary engine change after sensors indicated a mechanical problem. The German-Austrian pairing ran two interim F1.08B machines featuring a modified 2008 chassis with some of the bodywork complying to the 2009 regulations, with Klien's car fitted with KERS.

"Based on the results of the last test in Barcelona we changed the mechanical set-up of the car," related Heidfeld, who looked at suspension and aerodynamic settings in particular, and will be joined by team-mate Robert Kubica in place of Klien on Wednesday. "It looks like we are moving in the right direction."
Seventh on the final timing screens was Williams' Kazuki Nakajima, who will head into his second full campaign in the top flight in 2008. The 23-year-old Japanese ace concentrated his efforts on set-up work and slick tyre development in preparation for next season.

"Heavy rain showers interrupted the majority of today's session," reported the Grove-based outfit's test team manager Dickie Stanford, "so we spent much of the time in the garage. During the time we did get on-track, Kazuki ran through set-up configurations on the FW30B and testing the slick tyres. Nico [Rosberg] joins us for the last two days of the test and will continue work on our development programme."

Nelsinho Piquet, finally, wound up eighth-fastest in the sole Renault present, the young Brazilian making the most of the morning's dry running to carry out further slick tyre evaluation whilst simulating a 2009 car set-up. The team was also able to put some more mileage on the engine in preparation for the three-race rule that will come into force next season.

"It has been a good day," remarked Piquet, who covered a marathon 124 laps before he hands over to team-mate Fernando Alonso for the Spaniard's return to the cockpit on Wednesday for the first time since the Brazilian Grand Prix. "I did lots of laps and we completed what we needed to in terms of putting mileage on the car, despite the rain showers.

"The cool conditions meant that the track conditions were quite cool throughout the day, but the grip was good, which has given us some more valuable data about the tyres."

"It's been a positive first day here in Jerez," agreed the R?gie's chief test engineer Christian Silk. "Nelson did a good job completing a lot of laps, so we've been able to achieve the main targets for the day, which is always encouraging.

"The conditions were quite cold today and the weather was quite changeable which meant we had to keep adapting out programme, but overall we can be happy with our day's work."

To see the testing times in full, click here

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