Having already claimed that the rising from the ashes of Honda of Brawn GP has given him a new lease of life, Jenson Button went and proved it on the track by comfortably topping the timesheets on day three of the final pre-season Formula 1 group test at Barcelona - as compatriot Lewis Hamilton languished right down at the bottom of the order once again after damaging his McLaren-Mercedes against the barriers.

After team-mate Rubens Barrichello had stunned the paddock by lapping a highly respectable third-quickest on day two, Button left observers practically speechless by improving two spots on the Brazilian's effort and seeing off the entire opposition by more than a second.

That has prompted cynics to suggest that - with so little testing and development time behind the new, Mercedes-powered BGP001 - the lap times are being achieved on extremely low fuel levels in a bid to catch the eye and therefore catch new sponsors.

Either way, the British star was in buoyant spirits as the day drew to a close after covering 130 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya that took in a full race distance with live pit-stops in the morning, followed by a qualifying simulation and various set-up evaluations in the afternoon.

"It's been another great day and a very positive test generally," enthused Button, who will hand back over to Barrichello for the fourth and final day on Thursday. "It's so good to have achieved a full day's running, including a race distance, without any issues and it's fantastic that we clocked up so much mileage.

"After the challenges we have faced, to come here and get off to such an encouraging start is just what we all needed and I can't thank the team enough. All that effort has really paid off and everyone can feel very proud."

Just over a second shy of Button on the final timesheets was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, who found himself stranded out on-track on his first run in the morning session with hydraulic woes, and when he was finally able to take to the circuit again after midday to simulate qualifying runs, a red flag for Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie S?bastien Buemi further hampered his progress.

Unlike team-mate Kimi Raikkonen the previous day, however, Massa was at least able to complete his planned programme after lunch, conducting 109 laps as he also tried out different set-up options and worked his way through a real race weekend simulation, comprising qualifying, race and pit-stops. The Brazilian will remain behind the wheel of the Scuderia's new F60 on the final day on Thursday.

On his first of two days at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, third-placed Robert Kubica concentrated on several different race-related situations to fine-tune the working relationship with his pit crew, in addition to looking at tyre comparisons, practice starts and mechanical and aerodynamic aspects of pre-season preparations with the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's F1.09 challenger.

"Today was very productive", the Pole remarked at the end of 114 laps. "We tried various solutions we weren't able to complete last week in Jerez because of the unfortunate weather conditions. Obviously our main target today was to do a lot of evaluations for the forthcoming Australian Grand Prix."

Timo Glock wound up fourth-quickest for Toyota, the young German running through a programme of aerodynamic evaluations, suspension and set-up work on the TF109, clocking up 132 laps despite some interruptions for red flags.

"This morning started well and we made it through a lot of set-up and comparisons over the course of the day," reported the 26-year-old, who will remain in the car for the Japanese manufacturer's final day of pre-season testing on Thursday. "We found some different directions and overall it was a productive session.

"Late on we had a slightly longer break so we couldn't quite finish our plan, but we should have enough data to investigate and make some positive steps for tomorrow."

"Today was a bit more difficult for us," countered the Cologne-based squad's chief test engineer Dieter Gass. "We had a full programme of work on aero and set-up, but in the end we had a few red flags and minor problems which slightly interrupted our programme.

"Still, we got through a lot of laps and it was another busy day for Timo. Tomorrow is our last day of winter testing so we will try to make the most of it; then we can look forward to Melbourne where we hope to keep up our pre-season testing form."

Fifth in the final reckoning was the Renault of former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who with 107 laps on the board in the improving R29 focussed on the Enstone-based outfit's technical programme, which involved a continuation of Wednesday's set-up work. The Spaniard also looked at further aero work, continuation of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) development and some practice starts towards the end of the afternoon.

"It was another busy day for us, working on the set-up of the car and trying lots of different things so that we are ready for the first race," revealed the 27-year-old, who will remain in the car on day four before the team heads to Jerez next week for its final pre-Melbourne testing opportunity.

"We are trying to find more and more performance from the car, and we also did some work to prepare for the Spanish Grand Prix which will be at this circuit. We are happy with our performance, but we have to keep working hard because the times between all the teams are very close."

"We had a busy programme today and had a lot to get through," added the R?gie's chief test engineer Christian Silk, "but the car ran very well, with no reliability issues, which allowed us to complete our programme. The track conditions seem quite stable and the overcast conditions kept the track at a relatively constant temperature, which is always useful for testing.

"We continued with the set-up work we have been doing all week and also did some aero work. Overall we're making steady progress with the car, and we are pleased with how our week is going."

Three tenths of a second behind Alonso on the timing screens was Sebastian Vettel, on the first of the young German's two days inside the cockpit of Red Bull Racing's new RB5. The sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner concentrated on set-up work aimed at the first few races of the season and general development of the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered machine whilst evaluating a number of new components.

Whilst the Milton Keynes-based squad reported some positive results, there was a minor glitch in proceedings when the 21-year-old committed himself a touch over-enthusiastically to the entry to turn four and brought the car to a - thankfully undamaged - halt in the gravel trap.

Next up was seventh-placed Nico Rosberg, who spent his time on aero testing, set-up work and reliability checks for Williams, with the Grove-based concern's test team manager Dickie Stanford commenting: "Nico took over from Kazuki [Nakajima] today and carried on with our programme of set-up and development work on the FW31. He'll stay in the car tomorrow for our last day in Barcelona."

Eighth-fastest was Giancarlo Fisichella in the Force India VJM02, with the veteran Italian hailing a productive day for the Silverstone-based minnows as he continued the set-up, aero and tyre testing that team-mate Adrian Sutil had begun over the first two days. With encouraging reliability and almost 100 laps on the clock, the 36-year-old will now aim to complete a race simulation on the final day.

"We had some good reliability again today and could go through the programme as planned," Fisichella stated. "We did a lot of set-up work, which we needed to do after the limited running in Jerez. I feel that the mechanical grip is good, so we need to concentrate on the aero package now. I'm looking forward to the race simulation tomorrow, where we can look at the performance over a longer run."

"Giancarlo was back in the car this afternoon and carried on the trends we saw yesterday with Adrian," added Force India technical director James Key. "We made some decent progress - some down to driver preference, but others were genuine improvements - so it's been a very useful day.

"We completed some more work on tyres, comparing new and older sets, and began to unlock the difference between the compounds. We also tried some new aero parts, such as a tweak on the bodywork, a new rear wing and some parts around the front wing and the wheel spinners, which seemed to work as intended. Again the reliability was extremely good, and we look forward to another productive day tomorrow."

Following a distinctly troubled Monday and Tuesday for Scuderia Toro Rosso, F1 rookie Buemi enjoyed a far more positive day three with the new STR5, working his way through a marathon 145 laps - the most of any driver present - en route to ninth spot as the Ferrari-powered machine ran reliably and suffered no re-occurrence of the earlier issues.

The day also represented the young Swiss ace's first real time out in the car after his Tuesday efforts had been repeatedly frustrated, and he concentrated on making himself comfortable in his new environment and tackling a race distance, which was only slightly shortened by a red flag late on in the day.

Bringing up the rear of the order, finally - and not for the first time - was McLaren-Mercedes, with Hamilton having taken over at the wheel from team-mate Heikki Kovalainen. On the agenda for the Woking-based outfit were pit-stop practices and getting used to the new aero package by way of longer runs in the afternoon.

The reigning world champion found his efforts curtailed, however, by an 'off' at turn two mid-afternoon, when the 24-year-old lost control of his car on the exit of the corner and collided with the tyre barriers, in so doing breaking off a front wing end-plate and damaging the nose struts on his MP4-24 - as McLaren's troubled 2009 build-up shows few signs of abating anytime soon.

To see the testing times in full, click here



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