Magny-Cours reverberated to the sound of Formula 1 cars for the first time in four years today as the second leg of the fragmented 2012 young driver test got underway for Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India.
The circuit in the heart of France, which last hosted a grand prix in 2008 but continues to angle to stage a revived French GP in wake of improvements to infrastructure, was chosen by the three teams present as the venue for their permitted young guns running following concerns over the logistics of running the annual sessions in Abu Dhabi after the grand prix there in November given equipment would then have to be shipped to Texas for the following week’s US GP.
Although some leading teams, including Red Bull and McLaren, are sticking with the traditonal Yas Marina plan, three teams already held their permitted days of testing – Williams, Marussia and HRT – at Silverstone in July, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India now following suit at Magny-Cours.
With the test taking place before the crucial final seven flyaway rounds, the three days are also being used by the teams to try out some new development parts and Mercedes caught the eye on the opening day with the Brackley outfit unveiling an exhaust layout akin to the one introduced by McLaren and Sauber among others at the start of the season to subsequent popular take-up.
The exhaust is cut into the side pods and is designed to channel the exhaust gas down towards the diffuser, as many teams have been doing this season. It helps with low speed downforce and Mercedes no doubt hope it will help them to improve rear tyre wear, which has been a weakness this year.
However, it was Ferrari who ended Tuesday’s action at the top of the timesheet with its academy driver Jules Bianchi behind the wheel, the Frenchman clocking a best time of 1m18.070s across 87 laps on his first day of running in the F2012. Ferrari were testing out a new higher downforce front wing, which is believed to be designed with Singapore in mind.
However, Bianchi’s first day in the car ended slightly prematurely when it stopped by the side of the track at Chateau D’Eau with just over 20 minutes of the session remaining with an as yet unexplained issue.
The 23-year-old, who has driven in seven Friday FP1 sessions for Force India during the season, will revert to the more familiar VJM05 for day two’s running before heading back over to Ferrari on Thursday.
Driving the Force India on the opening day was GP2 title contender Luiz Razia, the 23-year-old setting his best time of 1m18.535s inside the final hour to end up 0.465s adrift of Bianchi on his debut for the team.
Mercedes’ test driver Sam Bird took the wheel of the revamped W03 and, encouragingly for the team, completed the most laps of the trio – 95 – with his time of 1m19.094s putting him third on the timesheet.
“We’ve had a very productive first day of the test today and were able to complete everything that we had planned on our programme,” Bird said.
“It felt great to be back in the car again and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve driven at Magny Cours previously in a Formula 3 car and it was good to experience it today in a Formula 1 car. We’ve collected a lot of data today which will take some time to sift through this evening and I’m looking forward to another good day tomorrow.”
YOUNG GUNS TEST, Magny Cours – Day one
1. Jules Bianchi Ferrari 1m18.070s 87 laps
2. Luiz Razia Force India 1m18.535s 65 laps
3. Sam Bird Mercedes 1m19.094s 95 laps