Giving new meaning to the phrase, "We'll be there in no time," lap times went by the board Thursday for Formula One teams testing at Algarve Motor Park at Portimao in southern Portugal. Hail brought the second day of testing to an early halt for five teams Tuesday, but Thursday was a total washout. Heavy rain and poor visibility grounded the medical helicopter and led track officials to close the circuit for safety reasons. No times were recorded. Team members sat in garages as clocks, biological and otherwise, ticked toward the season opener March 29.
Scuderia Toro Rosso's heretofore chart topper Sebastien Buemi managed two installation laps of the 2.9-mile circuit before he parked the STR3-04. He took a road car out later for two laps only to learn conditions were still dismal. On the up side, garage time gave the Swiss rookie racer time to reflect on his rise in Formula One the past three months.
"Being confirmed as a race driver for next year doesn't change anything once you're alone at the wheel, but in terms of working with the team, it brings an added sense of confidence, as the engineers and mechanics know they will be working with me all year," Buemi said. "From a testing point of view, the weather was a problem, with only a bit of time on slick tires on Wednesday. On Tuesday, there was such a heavy hailstorm that it was even hurting my hands, and by the time I got back to the pits, I was just driving on ice and the car was going all over the place. I still have a lot to take on board, in terms of learning all the different procedures on the car -- such as how to manage the starts -- but everything is going in the right direction."
A rainout couldn't dampen spirits in the Renault garage, despite no laps recorded on the R29-01.
"A very wet day!," Renault No. 1 Fernando Alonso proclaimed. "It's a shame we couldn't get anything done today because at this stage of the season you need to maximize the track time available. Still, I was pleased to have a full day in the dry yesterday, and we learnt a lot and have some valuable data. I will be in the car for the next test in Jerez where, hopefully, we can make some good progress with the performance of the car."
Like Toro Rosso, Williams and McLaren, Renault will resume testing at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, in February.
"Although it has been a wet week, overall, it has been an encouraging first test with the new car," chief test engineer Christian Silk said. "At the moment, the main things we are concentrating on are reliability and safety, and in those respects the car has been excellent. It's disappointing how the weather has worked out this week as we couldn't look at the performance and could only really put mileage on the car. We're now looking forward to the Jerez test next month where we can, hopefully, get down to some proper performance work."
The day wasn't a total loss. Renault team principal Flavio Briatore took the opportunity to announce a new supplier deal, with Italian luggage maker Piquadro.
Said Italian Briatore, who was in the fashion trade for Benetton before guiding the company's F1 team to a couple world championships, "Formula One involves a great deal of traveling, and we were looking for a partner who could provide a high-technology product in line with our image standards."
Williams technical director Sam Michael categorized most of the week's test of the FW31 as rain-ruined.
"Our only opportunity for consistent running was with Nico Rosberg on Wednesday," Michael said. "The time we did get on track was productive, though, and allowed the team to work through our scheduled systems checks and aero and mechanical tests with the new car. We're comfortable with the progress we made, but more track time would have been preferable. We will now return to the factory and prepare the test car for Jerez test in three weeks time."
Rosberg's work rate might have saved the test for Williams.
"Tuesday was almost too wet to get any valuable testing done, but my second day was on a dry track and it was very positive," Rosberg said. "I did the most kilometers ever recorded on one day with a Formula One car, and that is really encouraging especially as it was with the new car. We didn't have any problems that would have forced me to stop running so that's a big compliment to the team."
Rosberg's teammate Kazuki Nakajima lost out completely. The second-generation Japanese F1 driver managed one installation lap. "It was a real shame as I was really looking forward to testing the new car," he said.
McLaren Mercedes driver Heikki Kovalainen, too, was left in the garage to complete imaginary laps. His first opportunity to drive the MP4-24 was put off till Jerez.
Toyota driver Timo Glock's day was brightened only by the thought of testing in Bahrain next month. "It's a pity to end the test like this, but there is nothing we can do about it," Glock said. "That's just the way it is, and it is the same for all the teams here. At least at our next test in Bahrain we can expect much better weather and many more laps, which is what we need to develop the new car."
Toyota's senior general manager chassis, Pascal Vasselon, said his team was game and ready to work with the TF109, but the matter of out of their hands.
"Today we had no chance to do any testing at all because the helicopter could not take off, otherwise we would have done some work even in these difficult conditions," he said. "So we were stuck in the pits, and it was not a very productive day. Overall, our first preseason test has been positive in that we have appeared competitive in the wet and dry conditions, although, obviously, it is far too early to make any predictions. It is just a pity we had so little dry track time this week."
On the Med side of Spain, BMW Sauber met cloudy conditions at the Ricardo Tormo circuit outside Valencia. Race driver Robert Kubica covered 116 laps with time of the best of them not offered beyond the team. The morning was spent on setups and race starts. Strong afternoon winds changed the focus to reliability and made his day a workout.
"While the morning was good, unfortunately, the wind made testing quite difficult in the afternoon," Kubica said. "But we still got some interesting results, which will help us understand the new BMW Sauber F1.09 better."
The Pole's German teammate, Nick Heidfeld, continues the private test through the weekend.
As it has so many times, Ferrari got the last laugh, this time with the day's best conditions.
In Mugello, Italy, Ferrari's test of the F60 welcomed the best weather yet. Felipe Massa saw morning overcast give way to scattered clouds and a track dry enough to allow use of slick tires. Although temperatures on and above track hovered in the 50s Fahrenheit, Massa piled up 103 laps -- with a best of 1:23.981 -- in providing data for later analysis.
"I am pleased with the way these past days have gone," Massa said. "Finally, today we were able to test the car in the dry continuously. First impressions are positive, even if it is too early to say what level we are at, partly because we had no competitors here to compare ourselves with. However, if I was asked to give a verdict on this test, I would score it a strong 8 for reliability, given that we have covered over 1,500 kilometers (900 miles). It's true a lot of that was in the wet, but given the conditions experienced in Portimao, I think the decision to come to Mugello as the right one.
Massa closed the day slightly earlier than expected owing to a problem blamed on "hydraulics."