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Kubica Quickest on Day Three at Valencia

Robert Kubica in the Renault R31

While fires burned in Cairo on Thursday, flames also poured from the read of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari on day three of testing at Valencia.  After 12 laps in the morning session, the Brazilian spun in his own oil and caught fire.  The Ferrari mechanics were able to put him back on track again in the afternoon session, so that he was able to complete 80 laps for the day.

The Ferrari wasn’t the show-stealer on Thursday, however, as it had been in the hands of Fernando Alonso the day before.  Massa was only fifth quickest for the day.  Top honors on Thursday went to Robert Kubica, in the new Renault.  Times in early testing are rarely conclusive, but the Enstone squad’s new R31 was none the less impressive, not only for speed but for the obvious development of the car over last year’s model.

Two years ago, Fernando Alonso declared that the Renault was the slowest car on the grid.  No doubt, this assessment helped hasten his departure to Ferrari.  Last year’s Renault was an improvement: Kubica was often dicing with Mercedes and Williams for “best of the rest” honors (after Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren).  The new R31, on the surface at least, appears to be yet another leap ahead.

The R31 looks more aerodynamically efficient than its immediate predecessors, and the car’s design incorporates an innovative front exhaust system which is said to channel hot gasses from the engine beneath the car and through the rear diffuser, in an effort to reclaim some of the downforce lost due to the ban on double-diffusers which takes effect this year.

Kubica was cautiously optimistic about the car, however, saying that while the car appeared to have potential, there might be a concern about reliability.  His testing on Thursday was hampered by electrical issues.  As reported in Autosport, the Pole said, “We have to keep working and pushing and try to solve the problems we have in Valencia.”

He also echoed what most of the other drivers have been saying, namely that relative comparisons are impossible to make in test conditions when the assembled teams are running a variety of different test programs.  The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that some teams had deployed their 2010 cars tweaked to comply with this year’s rules changes.

All told, it’s difficult to know where everyone stands.  Considering some of the design innovations on display, however, and the cirrent driver line-up, it’s fair to say that 2011 promises to be another exciting season.

Unofficial times:
01. Robert Kubica Renault 1:13.144 96 laps
02. Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes 1:13.201 +0.057 117 laps
03. Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 1:13.553 0.409 105 laps
04. Mark Webber Red Bull Renault 1:13.936 +0.792 105 laps
05. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:14.017 +0.873 80 laps
06. Timo Glock Virgin Cosworth 1:14.207 +1.063 114 laps
07. Pastor Maldonado Williams Cosworth 1:14.299 + 1.155 101 laps
08. Sergio Perez Sauber Ferrari 1:14.458 +1.314 104 laps
09. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:14.537 +1.393 110 laps
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:14.801 + 1.657 73 laps
11. Narain Karthikeyan HRT Cosworth 1:16.535 +3.391 63 laps

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