Even as six northern provinces were racked by snowstorms that closed roads and stranded as many as 600 motorists, sun flooded southern Spain, greeting three Formula One teams testing Monday at Jerez de la Frontera.
Temperatures ranged from 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit through the day as the heat of blistering talent Sebastien Buemi warmed the hearts of his Red Bull bosses. The Swiss set a fast lap of 1 minute, 17.704, nearly a half-second off his best time last week when he consistently topped timesheets while testing for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Buemi drove 71 laps of the 2.75-mile circuit in an RB4-02. No one else posted a fast lap under the 1:19 mark. Making sure expectations don't get out of hand, Buemi had a slight off on the morning's cold, damp track, but repairs were easily effected. His afternoon concentrated on testing 2009 brakes.
Second-quick was veteran racer Nick Heidfeld testing slick tires on one of BMW Sauber's two tweener cars, 2008 chassis fitted as much as possible to 2009 specifications. In an F1.08B-06, Heidfeld stopped on course when telemetry readings spotted a problem around mid-day. The team made an precautionary engine change and sent the German back out. Heidfeld completed 75 laps with a best of 1:19.360.
In a full-on, real F1 test, New Zealander Brendon Hartley, yet another youngster, came third-quick for Toro Rosso. Apart from missing the pit entrance after completing an installation lap, the Kiwi earned praise for a respectable debut: a best-lap time of 1:19.586 among 83 completed in an RB4-05.
"This has been an amazing experience," Hartley said. "The first run was really difficult just in terms of the mind speeding up, as everything's going so much faster than normal. There's a lot of things to think about with buttons and radio calls, but I got more and more confident with the car, and it was going well by the end of the day. It's a dream come true, really. I've been working for this all my life and it's been unbelievable."
Below Hartley on unofficial timesheets was BMW Sauber test driver Christian Klien, who drove the F1.08B-03, the team's KERS-equipped car. The kinetic energy recovery system offered no particular problems. The Austrian recorded a best lap of 1:19.655 among 94 completed.
Williams was also in attendance, working on setups, aerodynamic evaluation, and slicks development in the person of test driver Nico Hulkenberg at the wheel of an FW30B. Test team manager Dickie Stanford referred to it all as the "winter development program." Hulkenberg completed 100 laps, most of the day, with a best of 1:20.704. He gives way to race driver Kazuki Nakajima for the rest of the test.
Meanwhile, in another sunny corner of Iberia, Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes initiated F1 use of a new track at the southern tip of Portugal. Testing at Algarve International Motor Park, Felipe Massa was at the wheel of a modified F2008 until afternoon, when he became ill. McLaren test driver Gary Paffett drove a KERS-equipped 23K for 63 laps of the 2.91-mile circuit.
Massa continued Ferrari's engine-life testing as well as trying setups with slick tires. The Brazilian completed 36 laps with a best of 1:32.926 before he made an early exit. Test drivers Luca Badoer and Marc Gene continue testing Tuesday and Wednesday for Ferrari.
Paffett's McLaren 23K mileage tested the electrical unit and produced data on a 2009-spec front wing. The Briton switched to a 23A to work out setup for the new circuit. His best lap was a 1:31.788 among 63. Pedro de la Rosa is scheduled to test Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Algarve track, near the town of Portimao, has been hailed as a state-of-the-art facility. The track can produce 32 configurations and has sprinklers to simulate wet conditions. Chief exec of the circuit, Paulo Pinheiro, told F1 Racing magazine that he hopes the track will compete with Spanish tracks Jerez and Barcelona as an F1 test venue with an ultimate goal of returning a grand prix to Portugal. Grands prix have been staged in Porto, Monsanto Park and Estoril.
Ferrari held its Christmas party for employees' children Sunday at the team's Fiorano circuit with a world championship to celebrate in the bargain. Raikkonen and Massa signed autographs and posed for pictures with the children. Activities were broadcast live on Italian television program "Domenica In."
Elsewhere, commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone has again appealed for scrapping the current points-paying format for a medals-based drivers' championship. His interview on the official F1 website allows fans to indicate if they like the scheme taken from the Olympics. Ecclestone wants to reward the racer who wins the most races by providing a medals-chase incentive. So far, he hasn't mentioned driver-contract clauses that award bonuses based on points levels.