World Champion Sebastian Vettel set the pace on day one of what could turn out to be a defining test in the build up to the new season. Unlike the permanent Valencia track and Jerez, Barcelona is an F1 race venue and is still considered one of the best circuits for showing up a good car. It’s combination of corners and short and long straights is a great test for a car’s aerodynamic efficiency and a quick car around Barcelona is always a contender.
With the political situation in Bahrain still volatile, the F1 teams met to discuss the final test which was due to start there next week. An alternative venue in Spain looks a distinct possibility. One of the reasons is because emergency medical staff who would work at the circuit are needed in Manama’s hospitals tending to the injured from the riots. The chances of the first race being called off seem to be mounting. Although Bernie Ecclestone has said that he will make a decision next week, he sounds more pessimistic now and the Foreign Office advice to British nationals is firmly not to travel.
The German popped in a 1m27.241s with ten minutes to go to finish 1.111 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who has spent much of the day at the top of the timesheets.
Alonso and Ferrari put in another faultless day of running with 101 laps as the Spaniard focused on runs of between eight and 17 laps. This is the second Ferrari chassis to be tested, after the first one did the Valencia and Jerez tests.
Heavy rain in Barcelona on Thursday meant that the session started on a damp track but gloriously sunny weather saw the track dry throughout the morning and the teams were able to get some clear running after lunch.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari finished third fastest ahead of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, but those times were set on short runs. The duo encountered problems too, both stopping out on circuit and forcing the session to be stopped.
Jenson Button was fifth in his McLaren ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta. The Scot didn’t get out on track until the afternoon and thus only managed 24 laps of running.
Williams’ Rubens Barrichello was seventh after the team lost time making a precautionary engine change while Michael Schumacher completed a 65-lap race simulation, which included pitstops, lapping in the late 1m29s before seeing his times drop off by about three seconds.
Hispania’s Narain Karthikeyan and Virgin Jerome D’Ambrosio completed a good day’s running completing 114 and 115 laps respectively.
Nick Heidfeld received plenty of attention at his first media briefing since joining the team as the Robert Kubica’s replacement and completed five pitstop simulations and 27 laps early in the morning. He then handed the car over to teammate Vitaly Petrov, however, a glitch with the KERS meant the Russian completed just 20 laps and was 10 seconds off the pace.
In other news, Mercedes announced that Bob Bell will take over as Technical Director in April, six months after he left the renault team. Bell is a veteran of McLaren, Jordan and Renault and has been hand picked by Mercedes boss Ross Brawn to provide technical leadership on the chassis side. He’s a first class engineer, very pragmatic and has a great all round grasp on all aspects of how an F1 team operates, not just the engineering side, after being an interim managing director of Renault following the departure of Flavio Briatore in 2009.
Meanwhile Tonio Liuzzi is to test for the last remaining seat on the 2011 F1 grid tomorrow, when he tries out for Hispania Racing. The Italian was dropped by Force India despite having a year to run on his contract and rumours linking him with this seat have been circulating in Italy since January.
“Tonio is a strong contender for the second seat given that he has a lot of experience in Formula One,” said team principal Colin Kolles. “We hope his comments and feedback will help the team to progress in the right direction”.
Hiring Liuzzi would be a step in the right direction for the team. The Italian has experience and will feel he has a lot to prove, after failing to hold onto opportunities which might have led to greater things, with Toro Rosso and Force India.
Williams has announced that it will launch its livery for 2011 online on Thursday 24th. This will be a telecast of an event I plan to attend at Williams HQ where Sam Michael will also explain the design of the new car and talk us through its radical back end.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 1
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m24.374s 37 laps
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.485s + 1.111s 101 laps
3. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m25.638s + 1.264s 57 laps
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m25.641s + 1.267s 78 laps
5. Jenson Button McLaren 1m26.365s + 1.991s 77 laps
6. Paul di Resta Force India 1m26.575s + 2.201s 26 laps
7. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m26.912s + 2.538s 52 laps
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m27.512s + 3.138s 90 laps
9. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m28.393s + 4.019s 116 laps
10. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m30.065s + 5.691s 54 laps
11. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m30.950s + 6.576s 116 laps
12. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m35.174s + 10.800s 20 laps
13. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m44.324s + 19.950s 27 laps