PARIS, February 13 – World champion Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a confidence-boosting, warm-weather drive in his 2009 McLaren on Thursday while title rivals Ferrari were bogged down in a Middle East sandstorm.
The British driver put in 93 laps of the Jerez circuit with a best time of 1min 20.737sec, the second fastest on the day behind Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais who clocked 1min 18.493sec.
"Today’s test gave me the first opportunity to drive MP4-24 in warm, dry conditions – and I’m very encouraged by what I felt," said Hamilton.
"The car feels strong, very similar to last year’s car, in fact. It doesn’t take long to get used to the new buttons in the cockpit, but the real test for everyone now is to understand the slick tyres ahead of the first race in Melbourne next month."
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel (1min 20.738sec), Kazuki Nakajima in a Williams (1min 20.898sec) and former double world champion Fernando Alonso, in a Renault (1min 21.307sec) completed the top five.
Bourdais’s time was slower than that set by teammate Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland the previous day, during the session at the circuit near Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain.
Alonso recorded the most laps round the circuit with 133, but Spanish media said the R29 did not live up to the expectations of both Renault and the driver, who is aiming for a third world title this year.
Alonso said he had a "good day" of testing without any mechanical problems, but noted that the R29 had failed to improve since testing in Portugal last month and more work was needed on the car.
Renault also canceled testing scheduled for next week at the Montmelo circuit near Barcelona, a spokesman for the circuit told AFP, in what Spanish media said was a move to allow mechanics to work on the car.
The testing in Jerez ends Friday.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain, Ferrari, as well as Toyota and Sauber, saw their testing schedule decimated by a desert sandstorm.
The teams were allowed out for installation laps in the morning at the Sakhir track, but after that running was suspended because the medical helicopter was unable to fly between the track and the nearest hospital.
The storm meant that former world champion Kimi Raikkonen spent the day in the Ferrari garage, unable to set a time.
"Another extremely precious test day has been lost," said a Ferrari team statement.
"There are just another 12 testing days left before the season starts. We have another session planned for Friday with Kimi behind the wheel but the weather forecast is not optimistic."
Best Jerez times:
Sebastien Bourdais (FRA/Toro Rosso) 1:18.493 (126 laps), Lewis Hamilton (GBR/McLaren) 1:20.737 (93), Sebastien Vettel (GER/Red Bull) 1:20.738 (92), Kazuki Nakajima (JPN/Williams) 1:20.898 (92), Fernando Alonso (ESP/Renault) 1:21.307 (133)