Hannah Taylor, F1 correspondent
The Finn showed his absence has not hindered his ability to go fast
Despite being absent for the past two FIA Formula One seasons, after moving onto new territory and competing in the FIA World Rally Championships, Kimi Raikkonen proved that his time away was well worth it, as he topped the timesheets in the first test day at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Spain. Of the 12 runners that participated in the first test day before the 2012 season kicks off next month, Raikkonen was one of the first drivers to take to the track in the morning session. “The Iceman” is the newest recruit for the Lotus team, and he appeared to keep his composure, as he went the distance in testing and completed an impressive 73 laps overall.
The Finnish driver had close competition in terms of the number of laps recorded on the board. However, he seemed untouchable as he ran away with the fastest lap of the day; setting speedy laps during the day. The2007 World Champion final and unofficial fastest lap time in the E20 that took him to the top of the timesheet with a 1:19.670secs.
I’m happy with the balance of the car.
Raikkonen expressed his feelings after a good end to the first test day and how he feels the car is handling at this early stage in the proceedings. “It was a positive day… The lap times don’t matter today. I’m happy with the balance of the car, which feels good, and the fact that we didn’t have any major issues. Also, I did more than a race distance today and did not have any physical problems at all, which is good,” said the Finn.
Surprisingly out of the driver line up of those taking part in the first test, the only competition to Raikkonen’s time came from Sahara Force India’s Paul Di Resta. The young Scotsman made good progress during his rookie season in the sport last year, and looking ahead to 2012, it looks promising that he will follow the same fate. He put 101 laps in his Force India Mercedes and climbed up to second place in the day’s standings with al time in the 1:19’s.
Di Resta described how the first test day went with the new car and also how he feels on a personal level after the first run inside the new cockpit. “A good start to our winter test programme with 101 laps completed, which allowed us to get through all our objectives and a bit more. The baseline balance felt pretty good and the car performed consistently over the longer runs, which was useful for collecting the data we need. So I think we can be positive heading into tomorrow and the next three days will be interesting as we have more test items to evaluate. On a personal level it’s also nice to spend such a busy day in the car to shake off the rust and assess my fitness level”, he explained.
As well as having the newest model on board in the form of the VJM05 car, di Resta and the Force India team appear to have an exciting year ahead especially if today’s testing result is anything to go by. There is also the addition of di Resta’s new team mate, Nico Hulkenberg. The German driver is by no means new to the sport or the Force India team. The 24 year old raced with Williams in 2010 and gained their first pole position in over five years during that season. Sadly, he was not kept on to race with them or any other team in the paddock last year. However, Hulkenberg had a window of opportunity with Force India, and they took him under their wing as test and reserve driver. With di Resta’s solid performance in the test session today, it will certainly be a good start for the team if Hulkenberg can follow suit when he sets off round the track later on this week.
While the majority of today’s runners put their new cars to the test, there were two teams whose drivers still had the use of the 2011 models. Mercedes in particular, were at a disadvantage to the other competitors; however both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher had solid finishes at the end of the day’s festivities on the track. Sadly, seven times World Champion Schumacher had to settle for second best over his more youthful team mate. Rosberg completed a few more laps than his team mate but ended up in third place nonetheless. Meanwhile, Schumacher was a few places off Rosberg’s pace and he came 6th overall.
HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa also shared the same fortune as the Mercedes pair and ended up using the 2011 chassis. Unfortunately, the Spaniard’s return to Formula One did not get off to the best start in testing today. De la Rosa previously raced with Arrows, Jaguar, McLaren and Sauber and has gained a race seat for 2012. However, the best he could get out of the 2011 car was only enough to secure the 12th and final position. Although de la Rosa and his team may have hoped for a more promising test day, all is not lost as there are still another three days to go with time to take to the track again.
On a brighter note though, the team can rest in the knowledge, that their driver line up is now fully established. It has recently been announced that last years on/off racing driver Narain Karthikeyan will partner de la Rosa for 2012. During the 2011 season Karthikeyan had an unsettling time when he was dropped in favour of Daniel Ricciardo. On the other hand, even though the majority of the second half of the season saw Ricciardo in the second driving seat, Karthikeyan did get to race on home soil for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in October last year. Nevertheless, Karthikeyan and his team mate de la Rosa can now look ahead to a more secure 2012 season for themselves within the team.
While the attention was very much on Raikkonen as he dominated testing today, in terms of those who battled at the top of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships last season, Red Bull’s Mark Webber was present. The Australian was elected to put the new RB8 through its paces first with his team mate and the double reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel standing on the sidelines. Webber’s final effort put him in a solid fourth today after completing 53 laps.
Webber appears very pleased with the overall performance of the new car and is looking forward to putting it to the test once again tomorrow. “It was great to experience taking a completely new car out of the garage… We had a very productive morning and made good progress with our programme. Then in the afternoon, we did a couple of longer runs, but had to cut it short. I’m looking forward to another productive day tomorrow, because this car is very enjoyable to drive. It’s too early to give a true assessment of the car, but out of the box, it seemed balanced and quite stable. It gave me a good feeling when I put the power down,” he said.
Meanwhile, the sister team to Red Bull, Toro Rosso were also in action following the unveiling of both team’s cars yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo became the first driver to show off the STR7, ahead of his F1 rookie team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne. However, in a way both drivers are rookies for the new season as Ricciardo joins a new team and Vergne begins his Formula One career. For his first effort flying the flag for the Italian team, Ricciardo did well to take fifth fastest in his first test today.
Unlike some of the drivers and teams who launched their cars elsewhere yesterday, and over the past week, Ricciardo and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi still have the circuit fresh in their mind and have had time to take it all in. Where many drivers in the field may have driven the circuit before and know it well, the testing period only comes along once a year. Therefore, Ricciardo and Kobayashi had the opportunity yesterday, to become familiar with it in advance of testing today unlike those who did not have this advantage.
Kobayashi, who has been famous for his feisty and daredevil manoeuvres over the past few seasons, did not disappoint in terms of the performance he delivered in testing today. The Japanese driver completed an astonishing 106 laps in the C31, topping all of the other drivers number of laps today. Sadly, even with this impressive effort, Kobayashi did not get too far up the ladder overall. He had to settle for seventh place in the end just behind Schumacher. On the other hand, Kobayashi did have one significant achievement, as he managed to pip the only other Formula One World Champion in today’s testing aside from Raikkonen.
Kobayashi gave his first impressions on the car’s performance after he finished his testing. “I’m happy… The new car feels fine. We managed good mileage despite a small problem in the morning. Running wasn’t about performance but focused on checking systems and reliability. Nevertheless I got the impression the new Pirelli tyres might be good for us. I am looking forward to the next tests and to further work on the car”, he commented.
McLaren’s Jenson Button had his first opportunity to put the MP4-27 to the test and see what sort of performance it would deliver. The 2009 World Champion managed to pip Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to set the eighth fastest time.
Button also joins the rest of the field who seem to be happy overall with the outcome of their first test day with their new cars. “It’s been a good starting point. What we wheeled out this morning was a great base. I don’t know where it’s going to end up by the time we get to the first race but the important thing is the balance feels alright… So it’s a good starting point. I’m looking forward to working with it and I’m happy. There are no niggly areas with the car, it’s still the starting point and we didn’t do any set-up work to improve the balance. And you’re never going to start with a perfect car. It was just putting some miles on it really”, he explained.
After Massa’s trip round the circuit to examine the handling of the new F2012, the Brazilian driver trailed behind Button and came ninth in the end. Massa does still have time to improve though and make any other observations about the car when he tests tomorrow as well.
The majority of today’s drivers in the first test did a minimum of 40 laps all the way up to Kobayashi’s 106, but two drivers in the pack could only reach the mid 20’s when their time came to shine. Although it was disappointing for Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen to only get 28 laps under his belt, the Finnish driver has picked the right time to find the problem, in advance of the new season that is fast approaching.
Caterham’s Chief Technical Officer, Mike Gascoigne explained the problems that the team faced and led them to withdraw early from the first day of testing. “We had to bring day one to an early end after damage to the starter shaft meant we were unable to start the engine, which is a shame because it was an unusual issue and we had enjoyed a positive morning, working through the usual day one system checks and running without any reliability issues on the car until that point… Heikki’s early feedback on the car is good and there is plenty to come from this car so we are looking forward to a positive next three days.”
With the problems that the team experienced this morning which forced their day to end sooner than anticipated, Kovalainen rapidly slid down the line up to finish in 10th place in the end.
Meanwhile, the Williams team also suffered a similar fate in terms of technical difficulties that arose, which led to Pastor Maldonado’s run coming to a standstill early on. What may come as added disappointment to the team is that their official launch of the FW34 also took place today in the pit lane today, ahead of testing. The day did not continue on the same positive note.
During the test run for the Williams team, Maldonado carried out a number of systems checks, including some aerodynamic correlation runs” then the track time came to an end for the day when the team encountered a few problems which they hope to fix before the next test day. Nonetheless as with Caterham and Kovalainen’s car problems, it is fortunate that Williams and Maldonado have found the areas that need to be worked on, before they need to be up to the competitive standard for the start of the season on 18th March in Australia.
With the first test day in Jerez officially over all 12 drivers that took to the track appear reasonably happy with the performance of their cars. Of course most of the field were able to put their new models to the test, with the exception of the Mercedes and HRT. On the first day of testing it is inevitable that the teams and drivers will encounter problems, or find areas that need find tuning and this is what is useful about the testing period. Although it was a fairly positive start to the four day tests this week, it will be interesting to see how the next few unfold after some much needed tweaks on the cars have been made.
|2.||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1m19.772s||+ 0.102||101|
|3.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||1m20.219s||+ 0.549||56|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1m20.496s||+ 0.826||53|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1m20.694s||+ 1.024||57|
|6.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||1m20.794s||+ 1.124||41|
|7.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber-Ferrari||1m21.353s||+ 1.683||106|
|8.||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||1m21.530s||+ 1.860||60|
|9.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||1m22.815s||+ 3.145||69|
|10.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham-Renault||1m23.178s||+ 3.508||28|
|11.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||1m23.371s||+ 3.701||25|
|12.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1m23.676s||+ 4.006||44|
Times are unofficial