Times might be a half-bubble off meaningless in Formula One testing, after all, they're always unofficial, but they do make for fun. Thus, Jenson Button, a fellow who till less than a week ago was effectively out of the sport, zipped to a quick time a full second faster the next-close runner Wednesday at 2.8-mile Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Spain.
Single-race winner Button, 29, whose status as the expected next champion of Britain has been eclipsed by the success of younger compatriot Lewis Hamilton -- you world champion -- burst to high hopes in the Brawn GP BGP001 with a 1 minute, 19.127-second lap among 130. If such a striking time is aberrant for the nascent successor team to Honda, the laps indicate the team saved from oblivion by team principal of Honda's abandoned effort, Ross Brawn, could make a mark in its inaugural season. But preseason preparations this close to racing are all about high hopes. The season begins March 29 in Australia. All work now points to that millisecond of lights-out in Melbourne.
The Brawn team worked on pit stops, qualifying simulation, and race-distance mileage as Button evaluated setups. The team has shown itself distinctive in its first test outing; while most teams give drivers two consecutive days at the wheel, Brawn is alternating driver days for Button and Rubens Barrichello, a tactic that might well provide better feedback.
"It's been another great day and a very positive test generally," Button said. "It's so good to have achieved a full day's running, including a race distance, without any issues, and it's fantastic that we clocked up so much mileage. After the challenges we have faced, to come here and get off to such an encouraging start is just what we all needed, and I can't thank the team enough. All that effort has really paid off and everyone can feel very proud."
Felipe Massa posted a 1:20.168 as second-quick runner. The Brazilian encountered a two-hour-plus interruption right out of the garage when a problem blamed on hydraulics stopped the Ferrari F60 on track. After losing the morning, Massa returned for a strong afternoon, putting up 109 laps in conducting a race simulation and evaluating setups.
Robert Kubica made his week's debut for a final test opportunity in the BMW Sauber F1.09 with a 1:20.217. The Pole covered 114 laps in air temperatures that stayed on the cool side of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and hovered near 70 on track, conditions that allowed high mileage among drivers, many of whom faced irksome weather -- showers and winds -- in Jerez, Spain, last week. Kubica went through race-condition simulations to coordinate the effort between driver and crew, and he worked on setup as well as tire choices.
"Today was very productive," Kubica said. "We tried various solutions we weren't able to complete last week in Jerez because of the unfortunate weather conditions. Obviously, our main target today was to do a lot of evaluations for the forthcoming Australian Grand Prix."
The BMW Sauber F1.09 was one of three cars reported by German publication Auto Motor und Sport to have been inspected by Charlie Whiting, the official in charge of enforcing sport-sanctioning FIA competition rules. The report said Whiting looked at the size -- small -- of the F1.09's fairing fins. He scrutinized cockpit fairing fins on the Williams FW31 and the rear diffuser on the Toyota TF109. Renault boss Flavio Briatore, who also visited the test, went so far as to cast aspersions on diffuser legality. The Italian was quoted by Italian newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport as saying three teams are crossways of the rules.
Glock completed 132 laps in the Toyota TF109, second only to an astounding 145 laps produced by Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Buemi. Glock's time of 1:20.410 was fourth-quickest.
Fernando Alonso covered 107 laps in the Renault R29-01, the best of which was a 1:20.863. The Spaniard continued setup work and evaluated aerodynamic components, KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) unit development, and practice starts.
"It was another busy day for us, working on the setup of the car and trying lots of different things so that we are ready for the first race," Alonso said. "We are trying to find more and more performance from the car and also did some work to prepare for the Spanish Grand Prix, which will be at this circuit. We are happy with our performance, but we have to keep working hard because the times between all the teams are very close."
Chief test engineer Christian Silk said: "We had a busy program today and had a lot to get through, but the car ran very well, with no reliability issues, which allowed us to complete our program. The track conditions seem quite stable, and the overcast conditions kept the track at a relatively constant temperature, which is always useful for testing. We continued with the setup work we have been doing all week and also did some aero work. Overall, we're making steady progress with the car, and we are pleased with how our week is going."
Sixth-quick Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull RB5-03 took the cockpit for the first of two days of working on setup, evaluating new components, and generally getting into race trim. The day was on track until near the end of the afternoon session, when Vettel put the car off track -- without damage -- at Turn 4. Vettel's quick lap was a 1:21.165. He covered 102 laps.
In for Williams, Nico Rosberg covered 89 laps in the FW31, the best at 1:21.324. He continued aero development, setup work and reliability checks.
His teammate Adrian Sutil having lifted Force India off the bottom of timesheets, Giancarlo Fisichella continued the upswing for Force India, testing for only the second time this offseason. The Italian veteran covered 97 laps in the VJM02 with a best of 1:21.545. Work centered on setups, aero work and tire testing. "We had some good reliability again today and could go through the program as planned," Fisichella said. "We did a lot of setup work, which we needed to do after the limited running in Jerez. I feel that the mechanical grip is good, so we need to concentrate on the aero package now. I'm looking forward to the race simulation tomorrow where we can look at the performance over a longer run."
Technical director James Key said improvements keep coming for the team entering its sophomore season.
"We made some decent progress, some down to driver preference, but others were genuine improvements, so it's been a very useful day," Key said. "We completed some more work on tires, comparing new and older sets, and began to unlock the difference between the compounds. We also tried some new aero parts, such as a tweak on the bodywork, a new rear wing, and some parts around the front wing and the wheel spinners, which seemed to work as intended. Again the reliability was extremely good, and we look forward to another productive day tomorrow."
Getting a full day in the STR4-02, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Buemi showed the characteristics that led to his F1 contract. He pounded out 145 laps, best of them a 1:21.569, and showed the car capable of serious mileage despite introduction Monday. The Swiss completed a race simulation that fell two laps short when red flags flew at Vettel's off.
Bringing up the rear -- but perhaps unconcerned after a day, Tuesday, in the company of Queen Elizabeth to collect an MBE -- McLaren Mercedes No. 1 Hamilton turned in the slowest time, a 1:21.657, and the fewest laps, 86 -- as many as front-runner Button had before lunch. The team worked on pit-stop practice after spending the morning getting Hamilton fitted into the cockpit to his liking. By midafternoon, the champ was in full form, losing the MP4-24 at the exit to Turn 2 and knocking off a front-wing endplate and damaging nose struts on a tire barrier.