Last winter test session under way

The last test session of the winter before the Australian Grand Prix got under way on February 27th, with tracks in Bahrain and Barcelona in operation. Sakhir was the busiest location with 17 drivers from nine of the teams at work and it was Ferrari at the top of the time sheet.

Felipe Massa.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Felipe Massa was the leader, his best time a 1:31.260, and teammate Kimi Raikkonen was just over three tenths behind in second. They both completed a race simulation and Raikkonen tried out a new aerodynamic package that Massa will use on Wednesday.

McLaren's Fernando Alonso was third on the time sheet and teammate Lewis Hamilton fifth overall. Their focus was tyre evaluation and set up options but while Alonso completed nearly 100 laps, Hamilton had a premature end to his day due to an oil leak.

Robert Kubica was the lead BMW Sauber in fourth and team test driver Sebastian Vettel was 10th. Kubica worked on mechanical set up over long runs but Vettel's day was compromised by a gearbox issue which kept him in the garage in the morning and he later suffered power steering and hydraulic problems.

The Renault duo of Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen were sixth and seventh fastest respectively. Fisichella completed a race distance in the morning, despite a delay due to a mechanical hitch, then worked on set up and balance. Kovalainen, however, did not have such a good day.

After 19 laps the Finnish rookie crashed heavily into the barrier at the exit of turn seven, damaging the car badly on the right hand side. He was able to get out of the car unaided, although appeared a little shaken, and hopes to be back on track tomorrow. Renault is investigating the cause of the crash.

"I had a pretty big accident today -- I got caught out in turn seven and the car hit the barriers quite hard," said Kovalainen. "All the safety systems worked perfectly so I am fine, but there is quite a lot of damage to the car and I may not be able to start running again until tomorrow afternoon."

Following the two Renaults were two Toyota drivers, tester Franck Montagny eighth and Jarno Trulli ninth. Ralf Schumacher was also present but experienced back pain after his car bounced on the kerbs, so Montagny took over. Aerodynamic updates and set up were their programme.

"Jarno had a couple of minor issues in the morning relating to the gearbox and he also lost time due to the red flags but that was the same for everybody," said test team manager Gerd Pfeiffer. "We are expecting Ralf back in the car tomorrow when we will resume our programme of set-up work."

Honda had its test drivers on duty, Christian Klien 11th and James Rossiter 14th. Aero components, race start procedures and tyres were their focus and for the moment the RA107 is back to plain black after the launch of Honda's Earth livery. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are scheduled to take over on Wednesday.

Red Bull employed both its race drivers, David Coulthard 12th and Mark Webber 13th. Sister team Toro Rosso was also in action and had Scott Speed back behind the wheel. The American rounded off the bottom of the times in 17th but was only a couple of hundredths off Schumacher's Toyota.

"I have to say it's been a constructive day," Speed commented. "There is still a lot of work to do and even if we will struggle at the beginning of the season I'm really confident we will make a big step forward this year. We have got a good package, we just have to get the best out of it."

Takuma Sato was the sole representative of Super Aguri and was 15th. He continued with last week's programme of set up and tyre development and the team described its aim for the day as 'quality laps rather than quantity'. Sato is the only driver scheduled to be on duty this week.

Back in Europe, Spyker and Williams opted to work at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya this week. The Williams of Nico Rosberg was the quickest of the six drivers present, 1:21.624, and teammate Alex Wurz was second. Aero testing over long runs, mapping and set up were their work for the day.

Christijan Albers the best of the Spyker quartet in third fastest. In the morning he and Adrian Sutil worked on set up and performance then in the afternoon testers Giedo van der Garde and Fairuz Fauzy took over. Fauzy completed a race distance but van der Garde had a precautionary engine change and only managed four laps.

"It was OK today, we made good progress and are going in the right direction," said Albers. "Again today was a learning day, trying to get as much information as possible, and I think it went pretty well. Tomorrow we'll be working on set-up for Melbourne and trying to find as much performance as possible."