Hannah Taylor, F1 correspondent
Following the past three action packed days, the first round of the FIA Formula One endurance testing period came to a close in Jerez today. With Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen having led on the first day, then Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher on top and being one of the few teams using their 2011 car, and Schumacher’s team mate Nico Rosberg in fastest yesterday, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso eventually had his time to shine in Spain. The day started with very cold temperatures but the warmth and the sun returned before the afternoon test session.
The Spaniard finished the best of the rest on his home soil and recorded the fastest time on the board with an unofficial lap of 1:18.877secs. The former Formula One double World Champion opted for the Pirelli soft compound tyre which proved to be a good decision and complimented the all new F2012 chassis.
Alonso expressed his feelings on the performance of the new car and admits that there are still improvements to be made. “We got on with our job, even if today and yesterday we had some reliability problems we could have done without which prevented us from doing everything we would have wanted… Everything about this car is new, with very few parts carried over from last year’s and there are many innovations… As I said earlier, there is much to do, but that doesn’t scare us,” he explained.
Alonso’s closest competition of the day came from one of Toro Rosso’s newest recruits and Formula One rookie nonetheless, Jean-Eric Vergne. Although the Frenchman was also running on the soft compound tyre, he could not quite match Alonso’s pace and ended up seven tenths of a second down on the first place man. Alonso really did go the distance and impressed with a total mileage clocking up to 1195.56 kilometres over 39 laps. Meanwhile, Vergne’s effort was equally commendable as he managed to get 80 laps under his belt from the 2012 new build in the form of the STR7 model.
“A good second day for me as we worked through everything on our work plan and completed a lot of kilometres. After making some adjustments, I feel more comfortable in the car and I can also get an understanding of the effect of the set-up changes that we tried and they seem to have moved us forward. A positive day, so now I’m looking forward to the second test session,” commented Vergne.
While the focus fell towards the very top of the leader board, the double and current World Champion, Sebastian Vettel was slightly out of the limelight as he quietly gained third place by the end of the day. The Red Bull driver recorded 50 laps on the board, after setting a personal best on the medium compound of Pirelli tyres. This solid effort came after completing just two laps in the morning session, and the German’s running time on the track then came to an end for a short period due to technical difficulties. It was reported that the team experienced an electrical fault with the engine on the new RB8 model. Despite this being replaced there was a concern that it could pose a potentially terminal threat on the engine, which led to the team’s decision to change it before the afternoon’s festivities began on the track.
...this is the reason why we are here,
Vettel explained his feelings following the problems in testing this morning and is hoping to improve in the next test at Barcelona before the 2012 season kicks off: “Something like this is simply part of testing; this is the reason why we are here… Of course we would like to get more laps done, but that can’t be changed now. So we get back to the factory, look at everything we have learned from this week and prepare for the next test in Barcelona, where I’m looking forward to putting some more miles on the car.”
After completing 80 laps yesterday and recording a time of 1:19.464secs to land fourth place, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton remained in the same position on the final list of the day four test today. However, the Englishman appeared to up his game slightly as the final day arrived, and he recorded six additional laps on the board but was a little slower than yesterday’s final lap time with a 1:19.640secs in the MP4-27.
Although the four days of testing is mostly to see how the new cars are performing, with the exception of those running their 2011 models, it can inevitably lead to competitiveness between rival teams early on, and also between team mates in the final results over each day. For the Lotus boys in particular they have achieved well on a personal level. Not only was Raikkonen first on day one of testing, but his team mate Romain Grosjean was the unofficial fastest man on the track, of those running their 2012 cars in testing yesterday to come in second place, and across the whole testing period and he equally impressed with his efforts for the final day. The Frenchman completed a marathon of laps adding up to a total of 95 in the new E20 chassis and secured himself a solid fifth place today.
Grosjean described how he found the testing period and the challenges he faced. “I’m really enjoying being in the car even though it is hard work… So far my fitness has been good, my neck’s not too bad, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow! I think everyone will benefit from next week away from the circuit so we can reflect on the data then go to Barcelona with some new parts for the car. I can’t wait”, expressed the Frenchman.
The most feisty and fearless driver on the track known for his daredevil manoeuvres, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi was also among those in action on the final day of testing. The Japanese driver sadly experienced a day of ups and downs, on and off the track back in the garage with the C31. While the morning’s action seemed to run smoothly for the team, and Kobayashi used his track time to work on “Set-up, aero comparisons and a tyre evaluation”, in the afternoon his fortune soon changed for the worse. The team discovered a hydraulic leak on the car which caused a two hour waiting period. Fortunately, the mechanics worked their magic and Kobayashi got back on track at last, and ended the day with 76 laps to his name in sixth place overall.
Kobayashi explained how the first test has gone and especially with the problems that arose today and how he praised the team for their quick work to get him back on track. “If I look at the whole picture I am happy with the first test… For sure we have found the right direction to go in. The car didn’t surprise us with any big issues, which allowed us to work on improvements straight away. We lost track of time due to small problems and I want to thank the mechanics for all their work. Today especially they did a great job to get me out on track again,” he said.
The next man of the Formula One field to take the spotlight was Force India’s new recruit, Nico Hulkenberg. The former Williams driver sadly missed out on his first day of testing with his new team yesterday, following reserve driver, Jules Bianchi’s crash during the day three action at the Circuit de la Frontera. Nevertheless, after a much anticipated delay due to unforeseen circumstances, Hulkenberg’s time to shine arrived at last today. With the VJM05 fully functioning and repaired, Hulkenberg had the opportunity to put it through its paces on the track. The German put 90 laps on the board and came in seventh position in the proceedings.
Towards the tail end of all the competitors in testing today, Williams’ driver Bruno Senna lined up next in eighth place as the action came to a close. Despite the Brazilian driver not finishing at the top of the list, his efforts were certainly not overshadowed by those in front of him. Senna definitely delivered and put in a solid day’s work, in terms of the number of laps that he recorded. These totalled up to and incredible 125 laps on the whole, which was enough to really put the FW34 to the test.
While Senna will be remembered from this test day for putting in the most amount of laps, Caterham’s Jarno Trulli will come a close second to him to share a similar achievement. Trulli came runner up in terms of the number of laps he completed today. The Italian driver certainly had a challenging day and drove out of his comfort zone on new territory. This was with regards to not only driving the new CT01 for the first time, but also having the use of KERS was an unfamiliar feature to him. Nonetheless, Trulli still put in a solid performance and recorded 117 laps to his name and took the final spot in the list with a ninth place finish.
As a result of the four day testing period getting the chequered flag, it has proved to show positives for most teams on the whole, but as with the aim of this time of year it has also shown where teams would still like to fine tune some areas, before the new season starts on 18th March in Australia. Fortunately, the teams and their drivers now have time on their hands to make the necessary adjustments to the cars, and put them to the test at the Circuit de Catalunya on the 21st to the 24th February. When this vital time arrives for the F1 fraternity it will give the teams and drivers a second opportunity, to get feel for the cars and hope that their improvements lead to success in the 2012 season.