Hamilton returns to Spain for first time since abuse

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton's return to Spain yesterday was low key, but ended on a high.

Hamilton was the target of abuse from a handful of spectators at a test session in Barcelona 10 days ago. The 22-year-old was saddened by such events, which was sparked by his ill-fated rivalry with Fernando Alonso last season during their time at McLaren.

The FIA, world motor sport's governing body, warned a repeat of such reprehensible actions would result in severe sanctions, potentially the loss of this year's Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Naturally, all eyes were on Hamilton yesterday in Jerez at the start of the latest three-day test session, but there were few fans.

And as if to prove Hamilton is intent on doing his talking on the track, he finished the day fastest of the 16 drivers, with nine of the 11 teams represented, only Ferrari and Toyota absent.

The 22-year-old completed 89 laps, with his best set early in the day with a time of one minute 19.102 seconds. McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa was second fastest, less than 0.2secs behind Hamilton, and with the Spaniard eager to play down the racism furore.

"The Spanish fans are educated and peaceful people," insisted De la Rosa. "So much has been said about this issue. The important thing for me is that at this test it can be demonstrated that all drivers are treated with respect, which has always been the case."

Mark Webber, who was seventh quickest overall for Red Bull Racing, maintained that in Barcelona there were a "few guys absolutely out of order", but he also felt the incident was blown out of proportion by the press. He added: "The over-reaction of the media ... take it back a bit. It's totally controllable and we can get on top of it."

BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, Kazuki Nakajima in his Williams, the Renault of Nelson Piquet and the second BMW of Nick Heidfeld all dipped under one minute 20 seconds.

Honda continue to struggle, with Rubens Barrichello 12th and test driver Alex Wurz 16th and last, almost three seconds adrift of Hamilton.

Super Aguri ran only one car, with Takuma Sato at the wheel as the Japanese team have yet to finalise their driver line-up, despite the season-opening Australian Grand Prix less than five weeks away.

Next week's planned launch in Barcelona has been scrapped due to sponsorship and driver issues, leaving the future of Anthony Davidson still up in the air.