British Formula Three champion Daniel Ricciardo capped off a career making 2009 as he ran the fastest lap of the three day 'young driver test' on the third and final day at the Jerez circuit.
The young Australian, driving a Red Bull, capitalised on being one of the few drivers to run at all three days of the test, deliberately designed to give younger drivers extra experience, with it being written into the rules that all the drivers could not have run more than two Grand Prix events.
That saw the field, with all the 2009 teams save for Toyota using the test, call on a wide variety of drivers, both in terms of racing background and nationality, for a variety of reasons, with teams evaluating future talent and rewarding drivers from the feeder series.
That saw BMW-Sauber, despite the German marque withdrawing from F1, running Alex Rossi and Esteban Gutierrez, both drivers who have come through the various Formula BMW series around the world. However, it also Williams field Andy Soucek, the GP2 refugee who won the test as part of the prize for taking the title in the re-launched Formula 2 series, which uses a Williams designed car.
And it was the Spaniard who topped the first day of testing, lapping the 2.7 mile track in 1:19.158. “[The first day] was a perfect day, a dream day,” he said. “I thought I was near the front, but I never expected to finish at the top of the times. I'm very proud of myself but I also have to thank Williams for this opportunity. I still can't believe I've just had my first Formula One test, it feels like a dream!”
That put the Williams ahead of the first of the Force Indias, in the hands of DTM driver Paul Di Resta two-tenths back. One place back was another DTM Mercedes driver, Gary Paffett in McLaren, followed by Ricciardo, who summed up the problem faced by many of testers in the face of this season's testing ban. “This was the first time I've ever driven a Formula One car round corners, having previously only done a straight line test and I have to say, it's got more grip than anything else I've ever driven.”
The second day of “kindergarten week” as termed by Toro Rosso was topped by someone more suited to the upper sixth, as Paffett, one of the more experienced drivers in the test bettered Soucek's time, stopping the clock at 1:18.718, nearly half a second clear of Nico Hulkenburg, who had taken over driving duties at Williams ahead of making his race debut in 2010. Ricciardo, Di Resta and Gutierrez rounding out the fastest five, though the Mexican was a distant 1.4 second behind Paffett's mark.
The final day saw Ricciardo snatch the fastest time, the 20 year-old topping out at 1:17.418, comfortably clear of Di Resta, another who completed three successful days of testing near the top of the timesheets.
It was, perhaps, not surprising that it was the Red Bull that recorded the fastest time it being almost certainly the fastest car as the competitive F1 season drew to a close, but the test also saw teams making the first steps towards 2010. Several teams ran ballast to simulate the larger fuel tanks and loads the refuelling ban will necessitate as well as continuing to work on set-ups for their next campaign.