Lashing rain and gusting wind had Formula One teams thinking they were still at the British Grand Prix. Perhaps they merely accompanied the weather front east to Hockenheim, Germany, site of the next series race in two weeks and three days of testing this week. The other bit of reminiscence? Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes was quickest.
So began testing at Hockenheimring, where all 10 teams turned up to enjoy -- if that's the word -- air temperatures near 70 Fahrenheit and track temps of barely 80. While Hamilton again showed his heels, the man fans in an online poll said put in the best drive of the British Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello, who picked his way from 16th on the grid to a third-place finish, was not present. Honda test driver Alex Wurz stood in, recording one of only two best laps slower than 1 minute, 16 seconds. Wurz turned a 1:17.825 in unofficial timing on the 2.8-mile circuit. David Coulthard of Red Bull logged the other, a 1:17.361, among the fewest weather-affected laps, 67. The Scotsman evaluated suspension geometry and tires.
Hamilton posted a 1:15.483 as McLaren showed a new engine cover. The Englishman worked on suspension development as well as race setup.
"I am pleased to be back testing as I just love spending time in the car," Hamilton said. "It's a great feeling being part of the development process with the team, and I do anything I can to help. We are all pushing hard to try and win the World Championships."
Hamilton, his teammate Heikki Kovalainen and a few other drivers are new to Hockenheim because Germany's loss of one race per season means the Hockenheimring now trades staging each year with the Nurburgring, where last year's grand prix was held.
"I like this track and today is obviously the first day I have had the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car here," Hamilton said. "I have enjoyed some success here in Formula 3 and it's been really enjoyable driving the Formula 1 car today. I would have loved to drive the old circuit though as well."
Championship rival Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, who turned a 1:15.803, was the only other driver under 1:16. He worked on race setup and evaluated new aerodynamic and mechanical bits, completing the day's fewest laps, 63.
The next three runners, Nico Rosberg of Williams (1:16.099), Adrian Sutil of Force India (1:16.516), and Sebastien Bourdais of Scuderia Toro Rosso (1:16.533), showed how seriously teams are pushing to reach the front ranks. Rosberg worked on race setup, evaluated brake packages, tested aero levels, and compared tire choices.
Sutil continued to refine new mechanical and aero parts on Force India's VJM01. He put in 97 laps. "It was quite a good day, we could do lots of laps without any real problems," he said. "It was disturbed by the rain quite a bit but at least we did as much dry running as we could have done. We worked on setup in the morning and I was quite happy with the car. In the afternoon, it was more difficult with the rain and then the wind picked up quite a lot and it was very difficult with the balance. But overall I am quite confident and feel very good. I like the circuit here."
Said Force India's chief race and test engineer Dominic Harlow, "Today's program very much followed on from the progress we made at the Silverstone test and British Grand Prix with the new aero and mechanical package. In the morning, we used last weekend's setup as a baseline and then worked on tuning it for the various challenges of the Hockenheimring. In the afternoon, we worked through some reliability items and brake cooling and setup, and made some good, solid progress."
Bourdais laughed at the weather to log the most laps of the day. The Frenchman covered 113 laps, testing brake and aero systems as well as getting long runs on both wet tire compounds Bridgestone supplied and both dry tire compounds.
Toyota test driver Kamui Kobayashi and BMW Sauber's British GP runner-up Nick Heidfeld were within a tenth of one another. Kobayashi (1:16.570) put in 65 laps, Heidfeld (1:16.593) 59. The German worked on race setup and suspension settings at the first official F1 test at Hockenheim since 1993.
Nelsinho Piquet, whose fortunes at Renault seem on the up after two solid race showings, put his head down for 111 laps of work that included a fast lap of 1:16.856. "We didn't manage to do as many laps as we could have with all the rain interruptions, but overall it has been a positive day and it was nice to drive here in the week before the grand prix," Piquet said. "It's quite a rewarding track to drive, and even with the changeable track conditions I was able to do quite a lot of work with the setup of the car in preparation for the race next week."
Chief test engineer for Renault, Christian Silk, pronounced the R28 reliable and the work on schedule despite inclement weather.