Topping the first day of Pirelli tyre testing, Ferrari's Felipe Massa declared himself satisfied with the Italian manufacturers debut as initial testing of their 2011-spec rubber began. It was the first full day with the Formula One drivers putting laps on the new tyre supplier on the Yas Marina Circuit.
"It was a positive start to begin to understand the behaviour of the Pirelli tyres," Massa said. "I felt at ease right from the start and there were no unpleasant surprises."
Setting a best time of 1m40.170s, the Brazilian pushed newly crowned World Champion Sebastian Vettel into second place in the afternoon after the Red Bull driver had ended the morning session on top. Vettel declared: "Our car behaved differently on new rubber as you would expect but it feels good to be in the car again after the busy week of PR commitments I've had."
Taking over track responsibilities from Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi, who had driven in the recent young driver test, Massa ended the day two tenths slower of the youngster and over half a second slower than Fernando Alonso's qualifying lap for last Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
"We tried two different types and acquired a lot of data which will be useful for the Italian company to develop the tyres still further for the start of the 2011 season: on the hards, there were some difficulties over a long run while the softs worked well both on the very first lap and also after they had done a larger number of laps," explained Massa.
Only three tenths behind, Vettel claimed second ahead of McLaren test driver Gary Paffett who is undertaking all development work for the team in place of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Ahead of Renault's Robert Kubica, Kamui Koboashi was fourth fastest for Sauber despite only managing to complete 39 laps due to mechanical troubles. With a new contract in his pocket, Rubens Barrichello was sixth for Williams having completed nearly 100 laps as he concentrated on aerodynamics and tyre integration.
"We've had a busy schedule today with plenty of work to do," Barrichello said. "This morning we evaluated aero set-up, before going for performance runs in the afternoon. This was our first session with the Pirelli tyres and I found it quite interesting. My initial impressions are positive and I look forward to working with them again tomorrow."
Force India's Paul di Resta continued to add weight to his case for a full-time ride with the team next year by posting the seventh fastest time, despite being unable to get on track until the afternoon after his car suffered an exhaust problem while Adrian Sutil was behind the wheel. In what is a vital two-day test for Mercedes GP, Nico Rosberg was next up, ahead of Torro Rosso's Jaime Algersuari who had been the first of the regular F1 race drivers to hit the track earlier in the day.
Sutil ended the day in tenth, despite completing only 20 laps with Timo Glock next up for Virgin ahead of Hekki Kovalinenen (Lotus) and Williams hopeful Pastor Maldonado (HRT) in thirteenth. The general consensus was that the new rubber had been a success although questions were raised after the red flags were brought out following Vettel's tyre failure in the closing minutes of the test, the first for Pirelli since it commenced testing its tyres in preparation for its return to Formula 1 in 2011, after an absence of 20 years.