In front of a crowd of 40,000 fans at Valencia, Fernando Alonso had his first drive in a Ferrari today and set the fastest time of the week.
On a historic final day of this first test, there were three world champions on track with Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button also getting a feel for the Mercedes and McLaren respectively.
“It was an important day for me, first time in a Ferrari,” said Alonso. “A very emotional day this morning and also last night. I think I maximised the day in terms of laps and time on the track and I feel good.
The Ferrari has tended to focus this week on shorter runs of 10-20 laps on the whole. Alonso and Massa both did plenty of laps in the 1m 11s range, unlike their rivals, but there was no sign of anyone going for outright lap times on low fuel. Most people seem to have been working on reliability this week. In the refueling era tests like this would be conducted on a two stop fuel load, say 50-60 kilos. Now with no refueling it makes sense to test at a mid level load, based on a one stop plan, so 80-100 kilos and that is what has been happening.
Perhaps next week at Jerez we will start to see some teams pushing the performance envelope a little and we will see the outright pace of some cars on low fuel. We will also see the new cars from Force India, which shook down at Silverstone today as well as the new Virgin car and the one we all want to see, the Red Bull.
“I think at the next test we might have more of an understanding when people are running very different fuel loads, ” said Jenson Button. “And you can get an understanding of the difference of those loads and how much time per 10 kilos it is. Then you can work out who is quick and who isn’t.”
Button admitted that the Ferrari is “quick,” but added the caveat, “we don’t know how quick”.
It’s been an encouarging week for Ferrari and the stories about poor downforce figures seem to have gone quiet for the moment. Alonso’s time today was set on the fourth lap of a 12 lap run.
The Ferrari’s long run times look very consistent; Alonso did a 16 lap run in the late afternoon, which started out in the low 1m 13s and gradually came down smoothly and consistently to the high 1m 11s, which is roughly the difference in fuel weight, so the car seems to be well balanced and looks after its tyres pretty well.
The tyres being used in Valencia were the new soft and supersoft Bridgestones.
The BMW Sauber has been very consistent all week, with both Kobayashi and De la Rosa setting times in the low 1m 12s on largely short runs of 8-10 laps at a time. The car managed 1,000 km of running and it seems to respond well to changes, which is positive.
We have quite a variation in the length of cars this season with the McLaren, BMW Sauber and Ferrari at the longer end of the scale and the Renault and Williams shorter. It appears that the longer cars are working better, but it’s early days yet and hard to draw conclusions.
This time last year Jenson Button could barely wipe the smile off his face; on his first day in the Brawn he already knew he had a car he could fight for the championship with. Clearly the shift to a new team and the lack of reference points is making him more guarded this time, but he didn’t have a great start today, by all accounts spending quite a bit of time in the morning getting comfortable in the car.
And he certainly wasn’t raving when he said, “From Lewis’s comments yesterday he is happy, we all want more. That’s the way we are, but we have a good base to work with.” He set his fastest time, a 1m 12.9 on the final lap of a nine lap run. With more fuel on board later on he was lapping in the high 1m 13s and low 1m 14s.
McLaren have been on a different programme from Ferrari and Sauber. McLaren have been doing runs of 20-25 laps at a time, which means that they have had at least 60-80 kilos on board. There has been no sign of a push to find the pace of the car.
Last year’s GP2 front runners, Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Petrov were out today for Williams and Renault respectively. Williams continued their conservative progress with the new Cosworth engine, while Petrov got used to the car.
HEADLINE LAP TIMES, VALENCIA, DAY 3
1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:11.470 127 Laps
2. Pedro De La Rosa BMW Sauber 1:12.094 80
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:12.438 82
4. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:12.576 97
5. Jenson Button Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 1:12.951 82
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:13.097 75
7. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1:13.669 126