BMW’s Nick Heidfeld picked up from where he left off last week at Jerez to emphatically head the timesheet as the crucial final group test before Melbourne got underway at Barcelona.
Meanwhile, the newly-renamed Brawn GP caused a surprise on its return to official testing action following its rescue last week with Jenson Button finishing fourth fastest in the brand new BGP 001.
The appearance of the former Honda Racing team at the test meant that for the first time this year all 10 squads are testing at the same venue, although for six teams (excluding McLaren, Renault, Williams and Brawn GP) this week's four-day session represents their final outings of pre-season.
And with in-season testing now banned from the Australian Grand Prix onwards it means this week gives the six squads last chances to both complete on-track preparations for Melbourne and test their all-new cars outside of a race weekend.
And it was Heidfeld who led the way for BMW as the team's F1.09 begins to potentially peak at the right time following a low-key start to pre-season.
And encouragingly for the Hinwil squad, Heidfeld’s best lap of 1m20.338s was six tenths of a second faster than nearest challenger Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari).
Heidfeld spent a large part of his day working on practicing race-related tasks for Melbourne, such as pit-stop drills and practice starts, in addition to set-up work.
“The weather was perfect for today’s programme”, he said after 92 laps.
“We could try a lot of different set-up solutions and even do some aero work.”
Raikkonen, meanwhile, was the closest contender as Ferrari continued to show solid pace with its F60 – the Finn clocking 1m20.908s
The former champion notched up 81 laps during work on setting up the car for the circuit, reliability tests and comparing aerodynamic solutions.
Another team that has shown well on the times in recent weeks is Toyota and Jarno Trulli put 121 further laps on the impressively reliable TF109, with the car featuring some aero updates as the team gets its challenger in Melbourne-spec trim.
"This morning started off with drizzly conditions but the rain quickly tailed off, giving us the chance to have a good day's work,” Trulli said after lapping just 0.030s slower than Raikkonen.
“The afternoon was windier but the track surface was fine. The car felt well balanced from the start and we worked on several new things on the aero side which gave us positive results.
“We were competitive throughout the day and we collected a lot of data so this was a useful start to the test."
The future of the former Honda Racing team may have only been secured, and its 2009 car shaken down, on Friday, but the new Brawn GP squad made an unexpectedly strong start to its first full test since last November.
Given that the team in its former guise had rarely appeared towards the top of any timesheet over the past two years, fourth place for Button on the BGP 001’s full debut was highly encouraging with the Mercedes-powered car just 0.8s off the day one pace.
The car – running in its livery of white, black and florescent yellow – ran reliably apart from a small gearbox issue late in the day and allowed Button to rack up 82 laps, with his best effort of 1m21.140s keeping him on top of the timesheet for much of Monday.
Renault tried out some new parts on its R29 and Nelson Piquet Jr took fifth place on his one and only day of running at Barcelona before returning at Jerez next week.
Nevertheless after seeing much of his pre-season dogged by poor weather and reliability glitches, the Brazilian was delighted to get 125 laps under his belt.
"It was a really positive day for me and nice to be able to complete so many laps on a dry track,” he said.
“I feel a lot more comfortable in the car now and, as we didn't have any issues during the day, I could get on with the set-up programme, which taught us some interesting things about the car.
“I will be back in the car in Jerez next week where we will continue our preparations for the start of the season."
Sixth and seventh places went to the Red Bull stable, although the main RBR squad will hope that 2008 history isn’t about to repeat itself this year after sister squad Toro Rosso narrowly outpaced it on its first day of testing with its Ferrari-powered version of the RB5.
STR's Bourdais, who reported encouraging progress with the STR4 (see separate story), completed 20 laps fewer than RBR’s Mark Webber (86) but his time of 1m22.158s was just under 0.1s quicker.
Webber did, however, spend the early part of the day shaking down the third RB5 chassis before going on to concentrate on a programme of work which included general car development and tyre compound comparisons.
Force India began its second full test with its new Mercedes-powered VJM02 and slotted into eighth place courtesy of Adrian Sutil, who completed both qualifying and race simulations, with Williams’s Kazuki Nakajima over 0.3s further back in ninth.
McLaren, meanwhile, unusually found itself at the bottom of the order with Heikki Kovalainen over 2.5s off pacesetter Heidfeld.
However, the Woking focused on longer runs as it compared the performance of the MP4-24's existing bodywork package with an updated one it has brought for this week.
After spending the morning running in the older bodywork spec, it mirrored the exact same programme, including fuel loads, in the afternoon with the car featuring all-new front wing, floor and top body.
Testing times from Barcelona (Monday 9 March)
1. HEIDFELD BMW 1m20.338s
2. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m20.908s
3. TRULLI Toyota 1m20.937s
4. BUTTON Brawn 1m21.140s
5. PIQUET Renault 1m21.662s
6. BOURDAIS Toro Rosso 1m22.158s
7. WEBBER Red Bull 1m22.246s
8. SUTIL Force India 1m22.452s
9. NAKAJIMA Williams 1m22.813s
10. KOVALAINEN McLaren 1m22.948s