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Hail to the F1 test in Portugal

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Hail to the F1 test in Portugal

Well, you don't see that every day, Chauncey. Formula One's winter testing in its new digs, Algarve Motor Park in Portimao, Portugal, ground to a halt Tuesday when lashing rain turned to hail and produced dangerous track conditions on the...

Well, you don't see that every day, Chauncey.

Formula One's winter testing in its new digs, Algarve Motor Park in Portimao, Portugal, ground to a halt Tuesday when lashing rain turned to hail and produced dangerous track conditions on the 2.9-mile circuit.

Sebastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso .
Photo by xpb.cc.

Even for that, Swiss rookie F1 racer Sebastien Buemi continued to top timing charts -- unofficial as ever -- as the only driver of a year-old rig, Scuderia Toro Rosso's STR 3-04. Buemi completed 48 laps and used all manner of rubber -- dry, extreme wets and intermediates -- as conditions changed. The team managed to work on the car's electronic systems and gearbox settings. Buemi's fast lap took 1 minute, 34.429 seconds.

For a second day running, McLaren Mercedes test driver Pedro de la Rosa was second-quick in the team's new MP4-24. His 1:37.512 in a day-high 62 laps, three seconds down, closed the gap to Buemi, who was four and a half seconds quicker Monday. De la Rosa drove without KERS, the kinetic energy recovery system optional for '09, and with a 2008-specification rear wing to help provide higher downforce in the difficult conditions.

The Spaniard gives way to FIA 2008 World Drivers' Champion Lewis Hamilton on Wednesday when the Englishman makes his first driving appearance since his title-winning effort at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.

Veteran racer Jarno Trulli brought the Toyota TF109 to third spot, setting a fast lap of 1:42.399 on the 26th of 30.

"It is a pity I could not do more laps but there was little to gain considering the conditions," Trulli said. "Hopefully, the weather improves for Timo later in the week, and we can get a better idea of the characteristics of the car."

Trulli teammate Timo Glock steps in Wednesday.

Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Nelson Piquet returned for Renault at the helm of the R29, but his second day with the new car was short-lived owing to showers. He managed nine laps with a best of 1:45.860.

"It was another wet and windy day, and so we were not able to do many laps," Piquet said. "It's frustrating to lose so much track time, but this is something that can happen in winter testing. I've yet to drive the new car on a dry track, and so it's difficult for me to really say how different it is to the R28. But the forecast looks better for tomorrow and, hopefully, we can learn more about the car then."

For as exciting as rain makes races, Renault's test director Christian Silk revealed what teams really think of it as a testing tool.

"It has been quite a frustrating day and the weather has made things very difficult," Silk said. "As it's a new car, we don't want to risk it by doing lots of wet-weather running and so we've done limited mileage today. The rain also makes it difficult to learn very much about the car, but all the teams here have the same problem, and so in that sense we are all in the same position. We are hoping for a better forecast tomorrow so we can get on and do some proper running."

Williams race driver Nico Rosberg turned up to run the Toyota-powered FW31 in variable conditions. The German with the world champion father continued initial systems, performance and reliability checks. He set a quick time of 1:51.580 on the 16th of 31 laps.

"We had another wet day in Portugal today," team technical director Sam Michael said. "When we could get out on track, we continued working on systems checks and completed some medium runs. We experienced a couple of reliability issues with the 31, which forced us into the garage for a while, but they were nothing major. The team is looking forward to some dry weather tomorrow."

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Farther east in Valencia, Spain, the BMW Sauber team were no doubt keeping a weather eye during their exclusive test. Although they were greeted by sunny skies and somewhat warmer temperatures, to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they might expect the breeze they experienced to bring precipitation from southern Portugal.

Meantime, Robert Kubica slipped into the freshly unveiled F1.09 and put in 73 laps of the 2.88-mile Ricardo Tormo circuit. Systems checks and gathering baseline data took first attention. "It was a good shakedown without a technical problem," Kubica said. "Although the track was missing a little bit of grip because there was only one car running, we already learned a lot about how the car is responding to set-up changes."

Perhaps eager to get to a season that holds at least as much promise as 2008, when the team met goals, led points tables, and looked formidable, Kubica practiced several race-start simulations.

"Everything went according to plan and without problems," team principal Mario Theissen said. "The car is now ready for the first day of proper testing tomorrow with Robert at the wheel."

Kubica will test through Thursday then turn over the task to teammate Nick Heidfeld for an additional two days.

In Mugello, Italy, Kimi Rakkonen spent a second day testing Ferrari's F60, the new car named to honor the marque's 60 years in F1. Raikkonen also encountered wet conditions, intermittent rain keeping the track damp throughout. Raikkonen drove 42 laps with a best of 1:33.920.

Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari in the new Ferrari F60.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It's always nice to drive a new car for the first time," Raikkonen said. "Unfortunately, because of the weather, we were not able to push to the limit, but these things happen. All the same, first impressions are positive and, above all, it's important that we don't have any particular technical problems."

Raikkonen hands off to teammate Felipe Massa on Wednesday.

New cars are yet to be introduced for Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso and Force India. The team abandoned by Honda last month still needs a buyer. Team principal Nick Fry, handling tenders, has hinted at making a bid. The season begins March 29 in Australia.

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