Rookie, Sergio Perez in the Sauber-Ferrari has managed to top the timing table on day 3 of the final 2011 pre-season F1 tests at Catalunya with a time of 1m21.761s, beating Filipe Massa in the Ferrari by 0.331s and setting the fastest lap of the tests at the circuit. Sauber had been criticised for employing a paid driver after announcing Perez as the second driver for 2011 and dumping long-serving Nick Heidfeld, as a significant sponsorship deal from Mexican telco Telmex followed Perez to the Sauber team.
Perez has graduated from GP2 where he has raced over the last two years, ending the 2010 championship in 2nd place behind the Williams recruit, Pastor Maldonado.
While the F1 tests are inconclusive, and in previous years Sauber have shown good testing pace only to be firmly mid pack once the racing season starts, it is always better to be at the top of the timing sheets than at the bottom. As Kobayashi takes over from Perez for the last day of testing, Perez can walk proudly in to the Melbourne paddock in 2 weeks time knowing that he was faster than anyone else last time he was in the car. That is a confidence you cannot buy.
Mark Webber in the Red Bull finished the day with the 3rd fastest time of 1m22.466s, a time 0.601s slower than Vettel's best from the previous day. The RB7 is still expected to be the car to beat, and having a day where the team does not top the sheets may indicate that they are trying parts or setups that are either focussed on longer stints or have not gone in the right direction. A team on top of their game will try different ideas just to prove that they don't work, or perhaps stumble on something that works better than expected.