F1 champ Vettel on track for the first time at Jerez

Two and a half months after winning his third consecutive Formula One world championship, Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull made his first appearance on the track this year in Thursday's preseason testing at Jerez.

Vettel spent time getting familiar with Red Bull's 2013 car, the RB9. The 25- year-old German recorded 102 laps around the Spanish circuit. Vettel said it felt good to get behind the wheel again after the winter break.

"It was great to get back in the car, to get rid of the rust and to get back in the groove again," he said. "The first feeling is good, and the car is working well. It's difficult to judge the speed, but in terms of reliability, it looks pretty good. For today, we accomplished what we set out to achieve, which was to put a lot of laps on the car."

Vettel's fastest lap time of 1 minute, 19.052 seconds was third quickest on day three.

"In terms of the times, it's always nice to be on top, but if there's one phase of the year where it matters least, it's here," Vettel noted. "Now is the time to do our homework. It's good for us to do a lot of laps, to see that the car is working well, and we'll go from there."

Vettel beat Fernando Alonso from Ferrari by just three points for the 2012 F1 title. He became just the third driver in the sport's 63-year history to win three or more successive world championships, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.

Alonso's teammate, Felipe Massa, topped the time charts on day three with a lap in 1:17.879. Massa turned in 85 laps. Ferrari reserve and test driver Pedro de la Rosa will take over the wheel of the F138 during the final day of testing on Friday.

Nico Rosberg from Mercedes was second quickest at 1:18.766. He logged 148 laps for the day after Mercedes had reliability issues with its F1 W04 car during the first two days. Rosberg encountered an electrical problem early in the session on Tuesday, while his new teammate, Lewis Hamilton, experienced braking failure, which caused him to crash into the tire barrier after completing his 14th lap yesterday.

"I'm very happy with today, and I think it was probably a personal record for me to do almost 150 laps," Rosberg said. "To drive the distance from Silverstone (England) to Spa (Belgium) in one day with no problems whatsoever is a fantastic achievement from the team. It really made up for the last two days and put a smile on everybody's face."

Kimi Raikkonen, in his first day testing Lotus' E21, posted the fourth best time (1:19.200), followed by Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne (1:19.247).