Greeting funds-challenged Formula One teams with perhaps appropriately dismal weather, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, offered fog to start, gave way to leaky skies, and ended with rain Tuesday as teams convened for close-season testing.
Nine drivers for respective world champions Ferrari (constructor), McLaren (driver), as well as Williams, Scuderia Toro Rosso, BMW Sauber and Renault assembled.
The only team with race seats on offer, Toro Rosso topped time sheets as Sebastiens Buemi and Bourdais duked it out for a job in 2009. Veteran F1 racer Takuma Sato, a former Honda runner, seemed a shoe-in for one seat until Honda's demise last week. Now talk has Honda-contracted Jenson Button as a possibility for a drive. All depends on whether Honda can find a buyer for the team in quick fashion, allowing Button and the team to be on the grid for Australia, March 29.
Buemi lapped the 2.75-mile Circuito de Jerez in 1 minute, 18.742 seconds ahead of Bourdais's best of 1:19.288. Buemi completed 91 laps and Bourdais 77. Their STR3s were set with downforce settings intended to replicate next year's aerodynamic rules changes. They continued work on setups. Buemi's extra laps went into varying aero assessments. Both drivers tested Bridgestone's soft slicks until rain prompted a switch to rain tires. They compared a 2009 version and those in development for 2010.
Buemi continues testing through Thursday while Bourdais drives Wednesday morning before handing off to Sato to complete the week's work.
Next best were McLaren testers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett in 1:20.134 and 1:20.164, respectively. Weather played with McLaren track time, the team limiting morning mileage and stopping altogether after a midafternoon shower. Paffett completed 26 laps in MP4-23K, working on boost levels from kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), and De la Rosa finished 21 laps in MP4-23A in working on setup. De la Rosa continues Wednesday on an MP4-23 even more heavily adapted for 2009 rules. Heikki Kovalainen joins the test then.
The only world champion working Tuesday, Kimi Raikkonen drove a Ferrari F2008 with limited downforce. His 1:20.261 was fifth-best time. His charge was to put miles on the engine in advance of rules that will require three races from each engine, but poor weather and the rain held him to 48 laps. "I'm glad to be back on the track," he said. "Shame that there was so much rain in the afternoon because it would have been useful to test some situations we had problems with during the last season. It shouldn't rain tomorrow and we'll drive a bit more."
BMW Sauber held off rolling out until midmorning, when Nick Heidfeld and Christian Klien ran F1.08Bs with modified chassis, Klien wth BMW's KERS, Heidfeld without. Running 2009 slicks, Heidfeld (1:20.678, sixth-quick) concentrated on setup and aero development. "Based on the results of the last test in Barcelona we changed the mechanical setup of the car," Heidfeld said. "It looks like we are moving in the right direction." Klien (1:22.098, ninth) was held to 15 laps after he stopped on course with a mechanical problem that led to an engine change.
Williams race driver Kazuki Nakajima went seventh-quick in 1:21.338 in an FW30B. He tested slicks and setups in 57 laps. "Heavy rain showers interrupted the majority of today's session, so we spent much of the time in the garage," test team manager Dickie Stanford said. "During the time we did get on track, Kazuki ran through setup configurations on the FW30B and testing the slick tires."
Tuesday was a second day of testing for Williams F1. Spaniard Dani Clos, a Formula Three Euro Series racer, spent Monday working on setups and slicks testing. "Today we ran Dani Clos in the FW30B interim car and concentrated on development work of the KERS and general chassis setup work," Stanford said. Clos on Monday completed 79 laps despite rain during the morning's running. He set a quick time of 1:22.558.
Tuesday's weather failed to dampen the day of Renault racer Nelson Piquet. Piquet completed 124 laps, with a quick time of 1:21.547 in kicking off Renault's final test session of the year. Piquet crammed in all sorts in all those laps; from slicks evaluations to '09 car setup to engine mileage. The R28 was given a thorough shakedown for Fernando Alonso, who arrives Wednesday to begin his drive for a third world driving championship. "It has been a good day,' Piquet said. "I did lots of laps and we completed what we needed to in terms of putting mileage on the car, despite the rain showers. The cool conditions meant that the track conditions were quite cool throughout the day, but the grip was good, which has given us some more valuable data about the tires."
Said Christian Silk, Renault's chief test engineer: "It's been a positive first day here in Jerez. Nelson did a good job completing a lot of laps and so we've been able to achieve the main targets for the day, which is always encouraging. The conditions were quite cold today and the weather was quite changeable, which meant we had to keep adapting out program, but, overall, we can be happy with our day's work."
Away from the track, BBC Sport reported teams are warming to FIA president Max Mosley's single-engine scheme in the wake of Honda's exit from the sport. Mosley outlined to teams that the option would cost an advance payment of $2.48 million and $8.1 million each season for the three years of the contract, 2010-2012. The contract includes technical support for races and test sessions. The price, based on four teams signing on, would drop if more teams joined.
The BBC reported independent teams Williams, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India are interested. Renault might be interested as well but didn't confirm that. The amounts presented would reduce teams' powertrain spending by roughly 90 percent. Teams not signing up to use the Cosworth engine and Xtrac and Ricardo gearbox, that is, Ferrari, BMW Sauber, McLaren Mercedes and Toyota, could develop their engines to the same specifications or they could modify current engines to similar performance.
Vehicle sales for German producers BMW and Mercedes have fallen sharply, but Japan's leading carmaker Toyota and Ferrari owner FIAT seem to have suffered most in the global economic downturn. Toyota's North American sales dropped by a third in November. BusinessWeek reported in October that FIAT, the sixth-largest carmaker in the world, expects to lose $1.2 billion this year and lay off more than 8,000 workers.
As part of its cost-cutting, Williams has called off a launch party. The team announced it has extended sponsorship with Swiss watchmaker Oris. Philips and Allianz previously extended agreements. ... Dutch electronics company Trust has signed with Red Bull.
Also off track, FIA 2008 World Drivers' Champion Lewis Hamilton has received the British Racing Drivers' Club's Richard Seaman Trophy from no less than British prime minister Gordon Brown. The club's awards ceremony was held at a tony London restaurant. Hamilton, 23, told an Italian newspaper this week he will never leave McLaren Mercedes.