Fernando Alonso finally extracted the pace from Renault's new R29 that the team has been waiting for since the machine's low-key debut last month, by giving his supporters something to cheer about at last with the fastest lap time on the penultimate day of testing on home turf at Jerez.

On a windy and overcast day in southern Spain, Alonso saw to it that Renault - which has dropped the biggest hint yet that it may soon be on its way out of Formula 1 [see separate story - click here] - left the Andalusian circuit on a high, covering 130 laps and lopping three tenths off his best effort from the previous day to end proceedings comfortably clear of his nearest challenger.

On a productive day, the man from Oviedo put more mileage on the R?gie's rapidly-improving 2009 contender whilst evaluating new developments and carrying out set-up work. The team will return to the test track next week at Barcelona.

"I'm very happy with the result from this test," remarked Alonso, "as we had two trouble-free days, a very consistent car and the work we have done has been very useful. It was really windy today, especially from mid-morning onwards, which made it difficult to understand some of the set-up changes, but all the teams were in the same position and we were still able to learn some important things about the car.

"I would like to thank the team for all their hard work this week, as I know they have worked very hard to make sure we could do everything we needed to."

"We had a good day," concurred the Enstone-based outfit's chief test engineer Christian Silk, "and it was a really positive way to end the test. It's been a tough week for the mechanics who have had to work really hard, just as the guys back at the factory have done to get everything out here for this test.

"We've shown excellent reliability, got good miles on the car and done some good set-up work, which has set us up nicely for our test next week in Barcelona."

Second-quickest, more than three tenths adrift, was fellow former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who started his day early but later found his progress halted by a hydraulic issue that took some time to be rectified. After the problem had been dealt with, the Finn returned to the fray to conduct long runs and pit-stop practice, under the watchful eye of record-breaking seven-time title-winner and now Ferrari advisor Michael Schumacher. Satisfied with the progress made, Raikkonen will remain behind the wheel for the final day of the test on Thursday.

Next up on the timesheets was Nick Heidfeld for BMW-Sauber, almost three tenths in arrears further still. The experienced German concentrated his efforts on mechanical set-up work on the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's F1.09, in addition to tyre comparisons, brake development, race start simulations and a so-called 'run-out-of-fuel run' which resulted in him stopping out on the track - a standard procedure that enables engineers to compare telemetry readings with the car's actual fuel level.

"The strong wind affected today's work a little bit", commented the 31-year-old after 99 laps of the circuit. "Nevertheless, I was able to work with various tyre compounds and try a lot of different solutions for the car's set-up. That gives me a good base to work on tomorrow."

A scant two hundredths behind Heidfeld at the close was Jarno Trulli, who had taken over from Monday and Tuesday pace-setting team-mate Timo Glock at Toyota. The Italian covered the most laps of any driver present with 131 on the board, as he spent the morning on set-up work and the afternoon conducting long runs - even if he bemoaned the strong winds as the elements continue to frustrate teams' pre-season preparations.

"That was a difficult day for us because our programme was disrupted," related the Abruzzese. "The main problem throughout the day was the wind. It was gusting and making it hard to make the comparisons we were looking for.

"We did set-up work in the morning and we attempted a race distance in the afternoon until we had a problem with the fuel rig. We still put in a lot of laps and we put in our best lap later than most teams in the day, so we can be optimistic about that - but overall today was hard work."

"Today was another productive day," added the Cologne-based outfit's chief race and test engineer Dieter Gass, "though the strong wind in the afternoon made it difficult to put in any meaningful running. We had planned a race simulation, but it was interrupted by a fuel rig problem so we had to come back into the garage to re-fuel.

"Instead, we used the time to put mileage on the engine and different car components. Overall we're still happy with the progress we're making. Tomorrow we will do a 2010 tyre test if the weather permits, so now we can look forward to our final test in Barcelona next week."

Mark Webber wound up fifth-fastest for Red Bull Racing, with 107 laps under his belt as the Aussie ran through a general pre-Melbourne development programme, succeeding in ticking off a number of items on the to-do list come day's end. The New South Wales native professed himself encouraged by the reliability of the Adrian Newey-designed RB5, and will stay in the cockpit on day five to similarly evaluate some Bridgestone tyres aimed at the 2010 campaign.

Kazuki Nakajima took sixth spot in the Williams, just a second off the outright pace following 83 laps that took in preparation of the FW31 with a view to the Australian Grand Prix and beyond, including set-up work as well as tyre and aero testing.

"We spent all day working on set-up, combined with aero and mechanical part testing," revealed the Grove-based concern's technical director Sam Michael. "In addition, we also carried out some start testing. Overall, it was a productive day during which we gathered a lot of data. Kazuki was driving today and will finish the week off for us tomorrow."

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton returned to the wheel of McLaren-Mercedes' MP4-24, continuing the development and set-up programme that had been begun at the previous Jerez test en route to seventh position out of the eight drivers in attendance. However, a delay to fit new parts to the rear suspension caused the British star to miss out on most of the morning's running - when the track was at its fastest - and the blustery wind and a sudden shower prompted a brief spin in the afternoon.

Nonetheless, the 24-year-old declared himself pleased with progress and the fact that the new machine had proven to be one of the quickest over a long run, as he looks to successfully defend his hard-won title when the real action gets underway Down Under at the end of the month.

Adrian Sutil brought up the rear of the order in Force India's newly-launched VJM02, barely a tenth away from Hamilton after 79 laps in all, bringing the car's total mileage to just over 1,000km since its debut on Sunday. In spite of the wind, the Silverstone-based squad was able to run through the majority of its scheduled programme, which included set-up evaluations, tyre comparisons and a number of test items. The team will continue its pre-season preparations at the Circuit de Catalunya alongside its rivals next week.

"This morning we had some good running with a lot of laps," commented Sutil. "We improved the balance of the car from yesterday and I was much happier. Right now we are just checking how the car reacts to different set-up changes.

"In the afternoon we then did quite a lot of tests with the tyres. We tried the soft, supersoft and medium compounds. On the long runs they behaved quite differently, and the biggest problem was with the graining - it happens very quickly, then gets worse and the grip never comes back.

"We are talking big differences in lap times; I have never had such a big graining issue, but I can see nearly everyone is struggling with a similar problem. On the whole I am pleased with today, though; we got a lot of very good information and can take this forward to Barcelona.

"We had a good end to the test today," agreed FIF1 technical director James Key. "Fortunately it stayed dry again so we were able to get a lot more information. We tried some different tyre compounds today, saw how they behaved and tried some set-up changes where we spotted some encouraging trends.

"Thanks to all the team for working so hard over the past few weeks to get the car together and have such a productive test. It has set us up well for the final test next week in Barcelona, where we hope to continue our strong progress so far."

To see the testing times in full, click here



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