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NOVEMBER 15, 2011

Vergne quickest for Red Bull

Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne topped the first day of the Abu Dhabi young driver test at the wheel of Red Bull Racing's championship-winning RB7.

Vergne (1:40.011) completed more than 80 laps and ended up the best part of a second quicker than Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi (1:40.960), the former Euroseries F3 champion with ART, who has finished third in the GP2 series for the past two years.

Vergne's time compares with a Red Bull Q1 best time of 1:40.167 on the Pirelli prime (medium) tyre at Sunday's Abu Dhabi GP, and Sebastian Vettel's option (soft) tyre pole of 1:38.481.

Air and track temperatures were hotter than during the grand prix, hitting 32ËC and 45ËC respectively, as testing takes place during the day, rather than in the afternoon and evening.

Vergne was concentrating on aerodynamic testing for 2012 before beginning a tyre test for Pirelli in the afternoon to evaluate prototype tyres for next year, so comparisons with times from the weekend are relatively meaningless.

"That was a fantastic day for me," Vergne said. "Driving the championship-winning car is just great and I liked every lap I did out there. Knowing there are two more days still to do just makes me smile more. It's a great opportunity from Red Bull; I'm trying to learn and get as much as possible out of it."

It is thought that if Vergne impresses he may even replace either Jaime Alguersuari or Sebastien Buemi at Toro Rosso next year.

Rob Wickens, who narrowly beat Vergne to the Formula Renault 3.5 crown, set third quickest time (1:42.217) in Renault's R31.

Fabio Leimer (1:42.331) was just over a tenth slower in the Sauber-Ferrari, ahead of McLaren's Gary Paffett (1:42.912), who shared testing duties in the MP4-26 with Oliver Turvey (1:43.502).

Briton Max Chilton (1:43.016) enjoyed his day in the Force India, also completing more than 80 laps.

"There were no mistakes, he was very consistent and he quickly got the hang of the control systems," said Force India engineer Oliver Knighton. "The morning was spent acclimatising to the car and we also ran several test sensors to gather some more data with a view to Brazil next week and 2012. In the afternoon we ran through a tyre programme and had a KERS issue, which took the edge off Max's final lap time."

Valterri Bottas lapped the Williams-Cosworth in 1:43.118 but lost time with a gearbox problem, with Sam Bird recording 1:43.548 in the Mercedes.

Rodolfo Gonzalez (1:44.022) was out for Team Lotus, with Stefano Coletti (1:45.278) in the Toro Rosso. Dani Clos got the HRT round in 1:45.329, ahead of Charles Pic (1:46.930), who is expected to be announced as a 2012 Marussia Virgin driver after the Brazilian GP. Pic shared the Virgin chassis with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (1:47.292).