F1

Heidfeld tops test times, Brawn shows strength

Heidfeld tops test times, Brawn shows strength

For the first time in offseason testing for the 2009 season, all 10 Formula One teams expected to put entries on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix on March 29 tested together Monday at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona,...

For the first time in offseason testing for the 2009 season, all 10 Formula One teams expected to put entries on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix on March 29 tested together Monday at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Spain.

Ross Brawn Team Principal, Brawn GP and Jenson Button, Brawn GP,.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Thanks to a morning unveiling of Scuderia Toro Rosso's new car, the STR4, all hands were on deck with new cars. The week's test is the final dress rehearsal for Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Toyota. The rest of the teams, Renault, McLaren Mercedes, Williams, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India and newly badged Brawn GP, test once more before Melbourne.

Perhaps their final week of testing explains why BMW Sauber, Ferrari and Toyota topped timesheets. But what can explain -- beyond a hearty "I told you so" from new team owner Ross Brawn -- Jenson Button's fourth-best time? Or McLaren Mercedes posting the slowest time? Of course, all times are unofficial and times aren't necessarily foremost in the thoughts of team personnel whose clocks are ticking as prep time diminishes.

That said, Button's hopes must have soared as he rolled the one-time would-be Honda RA109, now the BGP 001, to time-chart territory the Englishman hasn't seen in awhile. And in only the second outing for a car stalled by Honda's sale of the team. The sale was not completed until last Friday morning in Japan. Team principal of that Honda team and new owner of its successor, Ross Brawn, had targeted this car for fast things as it was designed and developed last year. Thus, Button followed by about eight-tenths of a second Nick Heidfeld's pace-setting 1 minute, 20.338-second fast lap. Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari F60 followed Heidfeld in 1:20.508, and Jarno Trulli in a Toyota TF109 followed Raikkonen in 1:20.937. Button laid down a 1:21.140 in 82 laps of the 2.875-mile course.

"It has been a good first day in the BGP 001 with our new team, Brawn GP," Button said. "I'd like to start by thanking everyone at the team for all the hard work that has contributed to getting us here today. We have enjoyed a positive opening day of running at our first test and achieved a total of 82 laps, which we are all very pleased with. We did experience a problem with the gearbox late in the day, but we knew we might face some reliability issues in view of our lack of testing. Fortunately, it's a minor problem that is easily addressed. It's early days yet, but, generally, it has been a positive start to our preseason preparations."

Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-24.
Photo by xpb.cc.

In an unusual turn after an offseason that has crowded times together, a full 2.5 seconds separated quick from not-so. Heikki Kovalainen was at the helm of a McLaren Mercedes MP4-24 that could not better 1:22.948 -- last -- in 90 laps. Kovalainen's morning was spent on laying down a baseline so that a new front wing, floor and top body could be evaluated in reliability runs through the afternoon.

After a sunny morning gave way to gray, coolish weather might have affected some teams, but group leader BMW Sauber reveled. Heidfeld completed 92 laps. A team pointing to more race victories and a final push to the top this season, BMW Sauber spent the day on race-day procedures such as pit stops, race starts, and general interaction among crew members.

"The weather was perfect for today's program", Heidfeld said. "We could try a lot of different setup solutions and even do some aero work."

Nelson Piquet, too, had a promising day after spending a few at the bottom of timesheets recently. The Brazilian world champ offspring followed Button with a 1:21.662 posted in 125 laps. Driving the R29-01, Piquet evaluated new bits and worked on improving the car's setup.

"It was a really positive day for me and nice to be able to complete so many laps on a dry track," Piquet said. "I feel a lot more comfortable in the car now and, as we didn't have any issues during the day, I could get on with the setup program, which taught us some interesting things about the car. I will be back in the car in Jerez (Spain) next week, where we will continue our preparations for the start of the season."

Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team, R29 .
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault chief test engineer Christian Silk said, "It was a relatively trouble-free day for Nelson, which is good for him as he has had some difficult days with the weather at some of the earlier tests. We did lots of laps; the car was good, and Nelson was happy with it and made good progress with the setup. So, overall, an encouraging first day of running for us. For the rest of the week we will concentrate on getting ready for the first race."

Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who did the shakedown, continued to put the first laps on the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR4, the chassis developed by Red Bull Technology and powered by a Ferrari V8 engine. Like Button with a new car, Bourdais registered among the fewest laps covered despite his distance being 20 laps more than a typical race. He posted a 1:22.158 in 86 laps.

."It's much too early to talk about performance," Bourdais said. "However, the car seems to work well and we've already learned a lot today. If we can carry on like this for the next few days, it will be a good starting point for the season."

As team principal Franz Tost said at the unveiling, Toro Rosso exceeded expectations last year, when star talent Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position then victory at a rain-washed Italian Grand Prix. As Tost tries to lower expectations for this season and as Vettel takes a place at Red Bull Racing to pull that outfit to its inaugural victory, Toro Rosso has stability on which to build. Perhaps as a result, the junior team placed higher than Red Bull, whose senior driver Mark Webber posted seventh-best time of 1:22.246 in 117 laps. He introduced another chassis, RB5-03 with shakedown laps and general development work to evaluate new aerodynamic and mechanical components. The Australian also ran comparison tests between medium and soft compounds in chalking up reliability miles on the RB5's Renault engine.

Adrian Sutil, Force India F1 Team, VJM-02 .
Photo by xpb.cc.

Force India's Adrian Sutil followed Webber as the day's workhorse. The German completed 129 laps in only the second test on the VJM02. Sutil tested setups and tire compounds, and ran simulations on qualifying and racing conditions. His best lap was a 1:22.452.

"I feel quite confident and pleased with the progress we made today," Sutil said. "One hundred twenty-nine laps is a good achievement, and we got a lot more data. We simulated a race and qualifying and, actually, it felt good. We did a long run, which was very important to see how the tires react over this distance. I feel actually much more prepared for Melbourne, but let's see tomorrow if we can improve our times as the track conditions in the morning were not ideal."

Force India technical director James Key said, "Today we concentrated on simulating a race weekend, with qualifying runs and then a race simulation this afternoon. Unfortunately, the qualifying sims were a bit of a compromise due to stoppages and we missed the windows with the tires on both occasions. But, overall, the car performed well and was very reliable, completing 129 laps in total, obviously, a very big improvement on last week and shows we have overcome the initial reliability issues. We learnt quite a lot about the tire performance over the longer runs; we have a little more work to do on bringing the tyres in at the moment as they seem to be consistent on the longer outings but less so on the shorter runs. Otherwise it's been a very productive day with a few aero checks and setup changes at the end."

Williams race driver Kazuki Nakajima trailed Sutil by a third of a second in the Toyota-powered FW31. Test team manager Dickie Stanford said, "Kazuki Nakajima started this week's four-day Barcelona test with a setup program followed by a race simulation, which we successfully completed this afternoon. The team are now getting the car ready for tomorrow's run for which Kazuki will carry on with our setup work preparing for Australia."

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