F1

Alonso sweeps to speedy Jerez Wednesday test

Alonso sweeps to speedy Jerez Wednesday test

Gray skies and dry track Wednesday gave way to early afternoon sprinkles then strong winds for Formula One teams testing in southern Spain. Still, track temperatures reached to nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 ...

Gray skies and dry track Wednesday gave way to early afternoon sprinkles then strong winds for Formula One teams testing in southern Spain. Still, track temperatures reached to nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team, R29.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Fast man Fernando Alonso said wind gusts so affected cars on the 2.75-mile Circuit de Jerez at Jerez de la Frontera that he couldn't figure out what was happening with his Renault R29 (R29-03, to be exact). Whatever it was doing, it produced fast time of the day, the only lap below 1 minute, 20 seconds among eight runners, a 1:19.945.

Alonso kept on course for 130 laps, second only to Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who completed 131. Renault, like Force India, wrapped up its Jerez test Wednesday. Other teams return Thursday for a final day in Andalusia. Teams assemble to test next week in Barcelona.

"I'm very happy with the result from this test as we had two trouble-free days, a very consistent car, and the work we have done has been very useful," Alonso said. "It was really windy today, especially from midmorning onwards, which made it difficult to understand some of the setup changes. But all the teams were in the same position, and we were still able to learn some important things about the car. I would like to thank the team for all their hard work this week as I know they have worked very hard to make sure we could do everything we needed to."

Renault chief test engineer Christian Silk pronounced the four-day test a success, even as Renault chief operating officer Patrick Pelata suggested to Bloomberg News that the French car-maker could scrap the F1 team if it cannot cut its budget by a third and/or gain increased revenues from the sport's commercial director, Bernie Ecclestone. (Ecclestone reacted that terms are in place through 2013 for team revenue payouts and terms will not change before then.)

"We had a good day and it was a really positive way to end the test," Silk said. "It's been a tough week for the mechanics, who have had to work really hard, just as the guys back at the factory have done, to get everything out here for this test. We've shown excellent reliability, got good miles on the car, and done some good setup work, which has set us up nicely for our test next week in Barcelona."

Next quick to former double world driving champion Alonso was former single world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn drove the Ferrari F60 71 laps before lunch with a fast lap of 1:20.250. He later did long stints to work on endurance, bringing his lap total to 105. His first impressions of the F60 were reported as favorable with more work to do.

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW Sauber veteran Nick Heidfeld followed Ferrari, logging a fast lap of 1:20.520 in 99 laps behind the wheel of the F1.09-03. Heidfeld worked out a mechanical setup then intentionally ran out of gas on course. Engineers wanted to see telemetry readings on that. After lunch, focus shifted to tires and brakes with a couple race-start simulations thrown in.

"The strong wind affected today's work a little bit," Heidfeld said. "Nevertheless, I was able to work with various tire compounds and try a lot of different solutions for the car's setup. That gives me a good base to work on tomorrow."

Off track, BMW Sauber announced acquisition of new sponsor FxPro, an accomplishment that lately takes on as much significance for teams as quick test times.

BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen, attending Formula One Teams Association meetings in Geneva, said in a statement: "We are delighted about our new collaboration with FxPro. Particularly in economically challenging times such as the present, it is a great achievement for our BMW Sauber F1 Team and for Formula One to have gained another strong partner."

FxPro is an online foreign exchange broker dealing in currency pairs, stocks, futures and precious metals. The FxPro trade name is owned by EuroOrient Securities and Financial Services Ltd.

Mark Webber followed Heidfeld on timesheets in the Red Bull RB5, running reliably and setting a quick time of 1:20.894 in 107 laps. Webber worked through a lengthy job list of general development tasks. The Australian is scheduled to conclude the week's test focusing on tires Thursday.

Williams racer Kazuki Nakajima rounded out the runners in the 1:20s. Nakajima set a 1:20.948 to just miss -- by a thousandth of a second -- six runners coming within a second of each other. The Japanese completed 83 laps.

"We spent all day working on setup, combined with aero and mechanical part testing," Williams technical director Sam Michael said. "In addition, we also carried out some starts testing. Overall, it was a productive day during which we gathered a lot of data. Kazuki was driving today and will finish the week off for us tomorrow."

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-24.
Photo by xpb.cc.

McLaren Mercedes world titlist Lewis Hamilton introduced the 1:21 lap level, posting a 1:21.302 in 70 laps, the day's fewest, at the wheel of the MP4-24. His attention was on setup and development. His low lap total owed to fitting new parts to the rear suspension. He missed much of morning running, when lap times were lowest. He spun later when the rain made its sudden appearance. Still, he kept a cheery demeanor and said he was pleased with progress.

Force India concluded testing with Adrian Sutil posting a quick time of 1:21.411 in the VJM02. The German drove 79 laps using varying setups before scrutinizing tires.

"This morning we had some good running with a lot of laps," Sutil said. "We improved the balance of the car from yesterday, and I was much happier. Right now, we are just checking how the car reacts to different setup changes. In the afternoon, we then did quite a lot of tests with the tires. We tried the soft, supersoft and medium compounds. On the long runs, they behaved quite differently, and the biggest problem was with the graining. It happens very quickly, then gets worse and the grip never comes back. We are talking big differences in lap times. I have never had such a big graining issue, but I can see nearly everyone is struggling with a similar problem. On the whole, I am pleased with today, though. We got a lot of very good information and can take this forward to Barcelona."

Technical director James Key said, "We had a good end to the test today. Fortunately, it stayed dry again so we were able to get a lot more information. We tried some different tire compounds today, saw how they behaved, and tried some setup changes where we spotted some encouraging trends. Thanks to all the team for working so hard over the past few weeks to get the car together and have such a productive test. It has set us up well for the final test next week in Barcelona, where we hope to continue our strong progress so far."

March 4, 2009 FOTA meeting in Geneva.
Photo by LAT Photographic.

A majority of teams in Jerez stay over to test another day before many of them move up to Barcelona to test next week at Circuit de Catalunya. One team absent from Jerez, Scuderia Toro Rosso, is the only team yet to unveil a new car. That changes Monday when the little Italian team rolls out the STR4 at the circuit.

One other team, hinted at since carmaker owner Honda called it quits for F1 in early December, might finally be a reality. In a picture speaking quite a few words, former Honda team principal Ross Brawn was photographed at Wednesday's FOTA meeting. The caption bore no team affiliation but after speculation landed on moneyed men Carlos Slim and Sir Richard Branson, expectations have settled on Honda coming back to life as a private team with Brawn in charge. Nothing official has been announced. Some version of the former Honda team appearing on the grid this year would bring team participation back to 10.

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