Grosjean impressive in new Lotus

Nico Rosberg (1:17.613) kept Mercedes at the top of the time sheets in F1's first pre-season test at Jerez but Romain Grosjean (1:18.419) was comfortably quickest of the 2012-spec cars in the Lotus on day three. His best time was 1.2s quicker than Kimi Raikkonen's fastest, recorded on the opening day.

"I'm one of the happiest guys in the world right now!" Grosjean said. "We were fastest in the morning then we completed some longer runs in the afternoon. The car feels good on different fuel loads and tyre compounds. For sure there's margin for improvement in the tests ahead but it's a great start to the year."

Trackside operations director Alan Permane added: "Another strong day with 117 laps and over 500km completed. We ran a similar programme to the one we ran during the previous two days with Kimi. This gives us good data across a range of scenarios and valid comparisons between our drivers."

That was an interesting comment to make, but Permane added: "Track conditions were better today, with more rubber down and less wind. We conducted set-up work on the medium compound tyre in the morning. Some of these were set-ups we ran with Kimi, others were new. In the afternoon we focused on getting as many laps completed as possible to test the reliability of the E20, which proved to be faultless."

Rosberg concluded the Mercedes programme aimed at furthering the team's understanding of the 2012 Pirellis, helped by another 118 laps. It brought the team to just under 1000 miles for the week.

"We have had a productive and busy three days running the MGP W02 car for the final time," Ross Brawn said. Rosberg added that there was no point making comparisons with the 2012 cars and is keen to get behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow.

World champion Sebastian Vettel (1:19.297) had his first day back at the office and his first experience of the Red Bull RB8, with which he and the team will defend their respective titles.

"It does take a couple of laps to get back in the rhythm," he said, "but the car feels fine and as we expected. There's quite a loss of grip due to the regulation changes, but you get used to it quickly and then start to explore how the new car feels. So far we can be happy."

Lewis Hamilton (1:19.464) drove McLaren's MP4-27 for the first time, taking over from Jenson Button, and ended up just 0.17s slower than the double champion.

"Today felt pretty good considering it was my first time in the new car," Hamilton said. "My initial feelings are pretty positive, despite going through a long, tough programme of initial tests - there were no nasty surprises, which is pleasing.

"This year's car feels a bit different from last year's: in 2011 we had so much stability from the rear-end, particularly in the high-speed corners, but we're now having to find that grip elsewhere, or, at least, take grip off the front and somehow offload it at the rear. But the car's baseline is something we can really work with."

Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne (1:19.734) had his first run in the new Toro Rosso STR7. After acclimatizing, Vergne worked through an extensive aero test programme doing short data runs for different aero configurations. Longer runs were completed in the afternoon.

"I still need to work on my seating position to make it perfect and I'm looking forward to making more progress tomorrow," Vergne said.

Sergio Perez (1:19.770) had his second day with the new Sauber C31-Ferrari, immediately setting strong times on a cold track before stopping just before lunch for a gearbox oil filter change which limited the team to just 48 laps.

It was a day of limited running for Sahara Force India too, after a small off by Jules Bianchi early in the session.

"I made a small mistake on my second run," Bianchi explained. "The tyres were a bit cold and I spun into the gravel and touched the wall with the right rear wheel. It was not a very big impact but it caused some damage."

The team was hamstrung by the lack of a brake component and technical director Andrew Green added: "A bit frustrating to lose time today, but we will take it on the chin because we had two very productive days earlier in the week with plenty of mileage."

The local interest was sparked by the arrival of Fernando Alonso to take over from Felipe Massa in the Ferrari F2012 but the team's apparently difficult start to the test programme limited the two-time champion to 1:20.412, some 2s shy of Grosjean's 2012-spec best.

Technical director Pat Fry said that Ferrari did not have time to take the fuel out and go for headline-grabbing times, but admitted that they are not where they want to be, and have some intensive work to do in next week's break before the two remaining tests.

Bruno Senna (1:21.293) did more laps (125) than anyone on his first day aboard the Williams FW34, while Giedo van der Garde (1:23.324) had his first experience of the Caterham, with Jarno Trulli due in the car tomorrow, when the team will start using KERS.

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