Absolutely, the zones are mapped to physical locations, since the firmware does not use the imaginary parameters. Why should it, for it knows where everything physically is? The imaginary parameters are only the fiction that is fed to the OS as representing the physical arrangement of the drive. That is, the presented drive arrangement may be emulated in software, whether by drive overlay or firmware, and each sawtooth represents a change in physical location (different zone) that does not necessarily correspond to changes on the logical side, where everything appears as if it were orderly and sequential.
I am not saying that all drives do this, only that it is perfectly possible to program one to do so, since neither the partition manager nor user may actually know what is going on at the hardware level. Seems to me that only someone with special equipment at a data recovery company could know where things are stored physically so I'm unsure how you two have "seen" partitions are physically contiguous at all...
The burden of proof is not on me for just pointing out that a partition may be moved logically but not physically (only remapped on the fly-a "logical" explanation), but on Olaf for declaring partitions must always be physically contiguous as a matter of faith:
The firmware handles bits and need not know about partitions any more than a chess program needs to know the name of the game it plays in order to play it. It will do whatever it is programmed to do. The question is: do you trust the human programmers and their motives? Maybe I'm cynical but I've had to RMA a number of drives recently when performance dropped off dramatically to <5MB/s from all the bad sectors, yet the company's drive utility and SMART reported drive health was A-OK. Clearly the motive was to reduce RMAs from drives that are still "working." It is not in a third-party repartitioning software company's own interest either to tell you that use of their product may reduce performance.