He might have claimed that it was not lap times that would be the ultimate judge, but 86 laps later and at the end of his day of testing Lotus Renault GP's R31 with a view to substituting for the injured Robert Kubica in F1 2011, the fastest time of anyone on the track will surely have done Nick Heidfeld's employment chances no harm at all.

His call-up to test at Jerez came so late that Lotus Renault GP did not even have time to fashion Heidfeld a pair of team overalls, and the German had never so much as sat in the car beforehand. Still, that did not prevent him from lapping substantially quicker than Vitaly Petrov had done the previous day within just two hours and producing an outstanding afternoon effort to soar to the top of the timesheets, ahead of no fewer than four world champions in the shape of Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

'Quick Nick' wound up more than two seconds faster than Petrov's best effort from Friday - by far the greatest improvement of any team, many of whose drivers indeed went slower on Saturday. On his programme were a new floor upgrade and back-to-back tests on all four Pirelli tyre compounds to determine the different degradation rates and variations in new tyre performance. As job interviews go, it was pretty seamless.

"I really enjoyed the day," enthused the 33-year-old. "It was fun driving the car, although it obviously takes time to get used to things when it's your first time in a car and working with a new team. We had a good day, without too many problems, and luckily all the changes we made to the car went in the right direction and improved things, so I was able to push harder-and-harder.

"In terms of the lap times, it's very difficult for me to compare with the other teams because we don't know the fuel levels or what the others were doing. My first impressions of the car were positive, although there are always areas where you can improve."

He might be remaining characteristically modest about his performance, but with Lotus Renault GP managing director Eric Boullier having already expressed that a strong test would almost certainly lead to a race drive for Heidfeld, the signature on the contract would now appear to be merely a formality.

"Today we had the chance to give Nick time in the car, and we carried out a big evaluation," the Frenchman remarked. "Our first feelings are very positive - he worked well with the team, gave good feedback and improved the car during the day. We managed to cover 86 laps and the times are encouraging, which is also thanks to Robert and Vitaly's early feedback and the hard work of everybody in the team."

"The day was based around getting Nick comfortable in the car and giving him as much mileage as possible," added chief race engineer Alan Permane. "He adapted to the car and the systems quickly. We played around with the set-up early on and changed a few things during the day - this included the weight distribution and the toes and cambers for the Pirelli tyres. Unfortunately, the afternoon was disrupted by several red flags, so we were not able to complete the long runs we had planned."

To see the testing times in full, click here



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