Barcelona: Former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso clocked the best time on the third day of pre-season Formula One testing at the Catalunya circuit on Thursday.
The Spaniard had sat out the first four-day session in Jerez earlier in February, but he continued to demonstrate he had lost none of his sharpness over the winter by taking his Ferrari to a best time of 1min 21.875sec off a total of 97 laps.
Nico Hulkenberg, in a Sauber, was second fastest with 1min 22.160sec with French driver Romain Grosjean, in a Lotus, laying down the third best time of 1min 22.188sec off 119 laps.
Alonso, the runner-up to Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel last season, improved his time from Tuesday by a second and was just a fraction off the week's best time of 1min 21.848sec set by Sergio Perez in the McLaren on Wednesday.
"The track was a lot colder than yesterday, especially in the morning. That made it more difficult to find the right level of grip," said Alonso on Thursday.
"Tyre management will be crucial this season; they are softer and faster, but they also degrade a lot faster."
Germany's Adrian Sutil, competing with Frenchman Jules Bianchi for the only drive left this season - with Force India - was eighth fastest.
Sutil, out of the sport for 15 months, improved by a second the best Force India time of the week so far set by Paul di Resta.
"This team knows me well because I spent six years with them," said Sutil.
"I wanted to show them that I am still quick and that was very important. I can sleep peacefully. I have done all I can to get back into F1. I don't know who is the favourite for the drive, it's up to Force India to decide."
The new season opens in Melbourne, Australia on March 17.
Thursday's best times:
1. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari) 1:21.875 (97 laps), 2. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Sauber-Ferrari) 1:22.160 (91), 3. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus-Renault) 1:22.188 (119), 4. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes) 1:22.611 (108), 5. Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Williams-Renault) 1:22.675 (79), 6. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams-Renault) 1:22.826 (68), 7. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:22.840 (71), 8. Adrian Sutil (GER/Force India-Mercedes) 1:22.877 (78), 9. Mark Webber (AUS/Red Bull-Renault) 1:23.024 (108), 10. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 1:23.366 (106), 11. Max Chilton (GBR/Marussia-Cosworth) 1:25.690 (57), 12. Giedo van der Garde (NED/Caterham-Renault) 1:26.177 (93).