Today the new cars from seven teams hit the track and Formula 1 2010 really took off.
Although there are still 40 days to go to the first Grand Prix in Bahrain, the new season kicked off in style with a frantic day of car launches and testing in Valencia.
We had first sight today of new cars from Toro Rosso, Williams and the Mercedes W01, the keenly awaited follow up to the championship winning Brawn. Michael Schumacher took the wheel in the afternoon for his first laps in a contemporary F1 car since the end of 2006.
Missing from the test this week are Red Bull, Force India and the new teams.
Most attention, inevitably, was on Schumacher and his return to F1 action. He quickly got down to work in the afternoon, having taken over the car from his new team mate Nico Rosberg and he went faster after just 18 laps. Rosberg had complained of sitting too low in the car and not being able to see out properly.
Rosberg did the initial installation laps and his best long run was at the end of his time in the car and his laps mainly in the high 1m 13s and low 1m 14s. Schumacher was on that pace straight away and in his final long run he was lapping in the low 1m13s and high 1m12s. Afterwards he was bright and breezy,
“I felt totally comfortable and really had a feeling that everything was very natural,” he said. “It felt just like at the very beginning of my career in 1991 when on the first lap, I thought ‘wow that was really fast’ and then on the second lap, I was just extremely excited. I feel like a young boy again and really enjoyed myself out there.”
Although it looks today as though Schumacher was faster, it will be a fairer comparison over the next two days when both drivers get more time with the car.
With new rules meaning that the cars will have to race with 160 kilos of fuel on board it is harder than in the past to decode the lap times, because the range of possible fuel weights is greater.
My understanding is that the front running teams will settle into a routine of running around 80 kilos of fuel, half full tanks, for their long runs to develop the car. Teams looking for sponsors or otherwise trying to catch the eye will be running around 40 kilos at times, a difference worth around 1.5 seconds per lap. This is something to watch out for over the four test sessions this month.
It will be very obvious all round when a time has been set on low fuel and new tyres.
The other comeback king, Felipe Massa, was fastest today in the new Ferrari. He set a time of 1m12.574 on the 14th lap of a 16 lap run and managed an impressive 102 laps. His long runs looked pretty good. He did one early on in the mid to low 1m 13s and later on did a ten lap run in the low 1m 13s. The car looks like it reacts well to changes.
“The car behaved very well, said Massa. “I felt it was an easier car to drive compared to last year’s. Last year it was always difficult to find the balance.”
It was a positive start for Ferrari. There have been rumours about the aero figures being poor and a B spec car being prepared. But my sources suggest that what has happened is that they recruited a new head of aerodynamics from Toyota in December and he brought a solution for a radical new diffuser with a hole the size of a sheet of A3 paper! It’s worth a lot in extra downforce and so Ferrari may well be building an update package around it, possibly for the first race if they can build it in time.
McLaren had Gary Paffett at the wheel for the first day, tomorrow it will be Lewis Hamilton and on Wednesday Jenson Button.
Paffett took the radical looking McLaren around 86 laps and set a fastest time of 1m 13.8s. Most of the long runs looked like they were run on heavy fuel, there was one long run in the middle of the day when he lapped mainly in the low 1m 14s to high 1m 13s.
Pedro de la Rosa managed 74 laps in the new Sauber-Ferrari and said, “The car was reliable right from the beginning, which meant we could follow our programme perfectly without wasting any time. Also the car reacted to our changes very well.”
His long runs were varied, the fastest in the middle of the day was a ten lap run in which his times compared with the Ferrari, but I would guess that he was running less fuel for that run.
Renault did not set any eye catching lap times in their new car today, but they covered 69 laps with Robert Kubica at the wheel.
“Tomorrow we will start working on the balance and trying to understand the car a bit more, ” said Kubica. “The narrower front tyres certainly had an impact on the car, but it’s difficult for me to judge as this is the first time I’ve driven the R30.”
Likewise, Williams looked like they were struggling a bit early on, but Rubens Barrichello covered 74 laps and set his best time on the fifth lap of a seven lap run. Barrichello brought out the only red flag of the day when he stopped out on track due to a software problem on the throttle system.
Sebastien Buemi managed just 18 laps in the new Toro Rosso, losing a lot of time to a gearbox control problem. This is the first car that the team has designed and built by itself, having relied on a car from Red Bull Technologies until now. Technical director Giorgio Ascanelli managed expectations today when he said that it was inevitable that there would be mistakes in this fledgling technical operation.