World driving championship leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes stepped into the MP4-23 Friday for a final day of Formula One testing at Monza, Italy, and topped unofficial time charts. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes,...
Under sunny skies with Goldilockslike just-right track temperatures, Hamilton clocked a 1-minute, 22.967-second fast lap among 97 to clear second-quick Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, the current world champ, by four-tenths of a second. Raikkonen, who trails teammate and driving title runner-up Felipe Massa by seven points, ran a quick lap of 1:23.371 in 79 laps. Italian veteran Giancarlo Fisichella put regular backmarkers Force India in third-best spot with a 1:23.632. Fisichella turned in 114 laps, second only to Red Bull's David Coulthard, who logged 120.
"It was a good day, during which we looked to fine tune the car for this track as well as trying a few new things," Raikkonen said. "I would say we have done a good job even if it is too early to say what the situation will be here during the race weekend. It was a pleasure to meet with (Ferrari) President Montezemolo, who visited the track today. Now we have to try and do everything as well as possible to get back to winning again, starting with the race in Spa. The world championship? I will give it my best shot and then we can count the points at the end."
Raikkonen, whose engine blowup cost him points at the most recent race in Valencia, Spain, hasn't won since the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona at the end of April. Raikkonen, Massa and Hamilton are the season's only multiple winners, though Raikkonen's two victories are half those taken by his teammate and by his McLaren rival, who have four each.
Continuing a promising show of speed, Williams placed in the fast half of the timesheets. Rookie Kazuki Nakajima posted a 1:23.634, two-thousandths off Fisichella's pace, in 99 laps. Nakajima's teammate Nico Rosberg had kept the FW30 within the top three times during the first two days of this test.
Teams used the three-day test to recalibrate aerodynamics, suspensions and brakes as well as study tire supplier Bridgestone's proffered compounds ahead of races at fast tracks at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, and Monza. Speaking ahead of the Belgium race, set for next weekend, McLaren F1 chief executive Martin Whitmarsh said, "We've got a number of smaller aero developments in the pipeline. There's nothing on the car that will be visually very startling, but there's plenty of detail work.
"We're also focusing on further mistake-proofing our systems. The championship is going to be a hard-fought slog until the end of the year, and we need to leave no stone unturned in our quest for additional performance and improved reliability. From a human and physical perspective, these two races are also pivotal to our title challenge. It's vital that every member of the team pulls together to make sure these races pass without undue incident and set us up nicely for the final flyaway races."
Although testing times can mean nothing once a race weekend starts, the day's times falling within 1.35 seconds of one another hint at competitive racing ahead. The Italian Grand Prix takes place at Monza on Sept. 14.
Coulthard's hard charging paid as the senior team in the Red Bull family finally edged junior jump-ups Scuderia Toro Rosso in the speed department. Coulthard posted a fifth-best 1:23.737 in the Renault-powered RB4. Sebastien Bourdais's STR3 carries a Ferrari engine, which put him seventh-quick in 1:23.865.
Renault's Fernando Alonso followed Coulthard with a 1:23.820 in 80 laps. "Another valuable day in Monza and we have learnt some interesting things that will help us prepare for the race here in a couple of weeks' time," Alonso said. "We tried lots of different things with the setup and then did some suspension work in the afternoon as using the curbs is important here. I think we have taken the car in the right direction, and we have a good basis to build on over the race weekend."
Renault chief test engineer Christian Silk agreed that Renault made a targeted effort. "We spent the day looking at the setup and completing all the usual Monza-specific work because this place is so different to all the other tracks that we run at," Silk said. "We continued with our race preparation program, collecting data, and found some very positive directions with the setup. So we are in reasonable shape going into the race here."
After a scheduled engine change Thursday, Timo Glock ran an eighth-best 1:23.897 in 79 laps at the wheel of the TF108 for Germany-based Toyota.
Robert Kubica, the series' only Polish driver, had an off in the morning and lost track time while his BMW Sauber team repaired his damage to the left front of his F1.08. A minor electrical problem and red flags that stopped traffic further hampered his lap accumulation. He covered 57 laps in 1:24.089.
Jenson Button rounded out times with a 1:24.321 in 96 laps in the Honda RA108. "This week's test has been useful in developing our direction for the next two races," Button said. "We have worked on finalizing the downforce packages required for Spa and Monza along with an initial study of the tire compounds. Although we have made some progress, the balance of the car is not where I would like it to be, particularly for Monza, and we need to analyze the data carefully to make improvements before the race weekend."
Team principal Ross Brawn said, "Monza is a unique circuit with very high-speed and low-downforce characteristics which gives the driver difficulties in the big braking areas and with traction out of the slow corners. Our drivers suffered all the classic problems that we habitually experience at Monza, and without traction control, engine drivability adds another dimension to the challenge. We have not achieved a perfect setup and balance this week and have further work to do in analyzing the data before we return for the race in two weeks' time."