It was veterans’ day at the Circuit de Catalunya in the last testing session before the Australian Grand Prix, as Jarno Trulli forced a surprise burst of speed out of his Toyota to top the standings.
And David Coulthard, back in action after having to give up his seat to young pretender Sebastian Vettel for a day thanks to a trapped nerve in his neck, ran him a close second.
Nico Rosberg helped to consolidate the impression conjured up by him and rookie Kazuki Nakajima during winter testingthat Williams will be a force to be reckoned with this year, while Heikki Kovalainen brought his McLaren home fourth.
Mark Webber was fifth, offering hope that Red Bull may be able to fulfil its threat of challenging for ‘best of the rest’ behind McLaren and Ferrari this season.
Big names like Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton found themselves no higher than ninth and tenth on the timesheets.
The session ended with a growing feeling of anticipation as the F1 roadshow prepared to make its way to Australia for the season’s opening race.
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh said: “Today the focus on track was similar to yesterday with a concentration on longer runs.
“Both the test and race teams were present in Barcelona, with the latter completing their process of familiarisation with the MP4-23. This included race simulations, qualifying runs and pit stop practices as we make our final preparations for the start of the 2008 season.
“With the cars leaving the McLaren Technology Centre for Australia on Thursday 6th March, we are taking the opportunity early next week to conduct some final straight-line aerodynamic work in Menorca.”
He said that the team had covered approximately 14,275 test kilometres over 21 days of intensive development.
“The pace of work on the test track and back at base in Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart has been outstanding, and it will continue at this rate building up to and during the season.”
The Red Bull team statement said: “David was back in action and was evidently fit and well, as he was second-quickest.
“Today was his turn to try the latest aerodynamic updates on the RB4 that Mark ran for the first time yesterday. He concentrated on fine-tuning the package and set-up work prior to Melbourne.
Chief Test Engineer Ian Morgan added: “For those of us on the test team, it feels like the end of a season that has run pretty much non-stop since the end of last year.
“The result of all the hard work is that the cars go to Australia having completed a high mileage, showing good reliability and what seems like an encouraging level of performance.
“Now it’s a case of getting to Melbourne to see where we really are.”
Honda has put out a statement covering the three days of testing, in which it lists the technical work it carried out over the three days but offers very little suggestion of what the team thinks about its car’s progress.
Steve Clark, the team’s head of race and test engineering, described the work done as positive.
He said: ” We also completed an evaluation of revised suspension settings on Wednesday morning to address the handling concerns that the RA108 has been experiencing, which produced some positive results.
“We now have a three-day test in Jerez next week, where we will be running with a completely revised aerodynamic package, to finalise our pre-season preparation.”
Jenson Button added: “Our focus this week was to run through the requirements of a race weekend with qualifying and race practice to ensure that we are well prepared for the start of the season.
“Our main aero updates and some new mechanical developments will arrive for the Jerez test next week and we have a great deal to do there to ensure that we are in a position to be competitive for Melbourne.
“We have been doing a lot of work to overcome our handling issues but the pace and the lap times are not there yet.”
Barcelona test times 27/02/08:
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:20.801 (83 laps)
- David Coulthard, Red Bull: 1:21.258 (76 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:21.293 (77 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:21.309 (87 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:21.368 (91 laps)
- Nelson A. Piquet, Renault: 1:21.443 (114 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:21.454 (128 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:21.796 (124 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:21.933 (80 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:22.011 (88 laps)
- Timo Glock, Toyota: 1:22.155 (49 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India: 1:22.233 (90 laps)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:22.286 (49 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:22.299 (93 laps)
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 1:22.465 (79 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:22.521 (97 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:22.624 (61 laps)
- Alexander Wurz, Honda: 1:24.154 (82 laps)
- Jenson Button, Honda: 1:24.275 (7 laps)