As countdown to the Australian Grand Prix later this month continued, Kimi Raikkonen put the Ferrari F50 atop time charts in Tuesday's Formula One testing at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Spain. He put more than a half-second on next-fastest Kazuki Nakajima in a Williams FW31.
Starting on a damp track, the Finn a year off his world championship enjoyed morning clouds that parted for sunshine and track temperatures that neared 80 degrees Fahrenheit as he lapped the 2.8-mile course in 1 minute, 20.314 seconds. Nakajima toured in 1:20.907. Then to confirm high hopes, Rubens Barrichello followed in the Brawn GP BGP001 in 1:20.966, giving the top three and only drivers under 1:21 an interesting look.
Raikkonen's expected day of comparing setups in the morning then doing race weekend simulations was cut short early by a cooling problem with the car's KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) unit. Raikkonen was forced to park after 55 laps.
Nakajima continued development work on the Toyota-powered Williams with testing an aerodynamic upgrade, working on setups, and doing reliability checks. He completed 86 laps.
"Kazuki carried on further development of the FW31 today," Dickie Stanford, test team manger said... "We had some changes to make to the car over the course of the day so a bit of track time was lost in the garage making those revisions, we therefore didn't get in as many laps as we'd have liked. Nico (Rosberg) will take over work tomorrow."
In his first F1 mileage since the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, Barrichello spent 111 laps on long runs evaluating the Mercedes-powered BGP001 for race-distance balance.
"First of all, I would like to thank everyone at Brackley for what has been achieved," Barrichello said. "After such a long wait for news on the team and for me to have to sit out the past four months, I am so pleased that we have a reliable and fast car straight out of the box. Secondly, I am pleased with my physical condition, which has enabled me to complete so many laps -- 111 in total -- on my first day of running. As we are playing catch-up, obviously, the more mileage I can do before the first race, the better. I am happy that we have got off to a good start here at our first test and we just need to carry that through to the next test in Jerez (Spain) and Melbourne."
Jarno Trulli was first among the 1:21ers. The Italian ran a 1:21.182 in 127 laps at the wheel of the TF109. He has put hard mileage on the new car, showing a reliability that will be necessary to pulling the team up to the podium with consistency.
Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber followed Trulli. The Australian recovering from a broken right leg, injured in late November, posted a 1:21.347 in 66 laps in the Renault-powered RB5-03. His laps were limited by an electrics problem, as tricky to find in an F1 car as in your grocery-getter. Webber otherwise worked on setups and practice starts.
BMW Sauber workhorse Nick Heidfeld put in 124 laps in the F1.09-04. Serious and ready, BMW Sauber started -- most teams finish -- the day with a race simulation. Heidfeld, whose quick lap was a 1:21.615, completed a race distance with lots of pit stops and a stop-and-go penalty to get everyone on task for the season coming soon. Thereafter, the team concentrated on setups and tested aero components. Practice starts on the track's main straight capped the day as Heidfeld completed his offseason testing. Robert Kubica steps in Wednesday.
"The race simulation was an important and valuable part of the final preparations for the Australian Grand Prix, which is in less than three weeks," Heidfeld said. "It was the last test for me, I'm now looking forward to the season opener in Melbourne."
Adrian Sutil kept Force India up the timesheets with a 1:21.834, good for seventh among 10. The German completed 82 laps in the Mercedes-powered VJM02, showing needed reliability is rounding into form. His program included setups, aero adjustments, and tire comparisons.
"We could do a lot of running again today, which was the main aim of the program," Sutil said. "I feel a lot more confident in the car now we have got some reliability and can start to look at different setups and making the tires work. We know we have a lot of work to do, particularly with the tires as we still struggle to bring them in, but we now have a good idea of how the car is behaving. I'm looking forward to Melbourne now."
Sutil gives way to veteran teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, who will conclude the test Wednesday and Thursday.
"Today was a fairly productive day with no major dramas," technical director James Key said. "The car was very reliable yet again, allowing us to run through a number of setup changes. We are better understanding the way the car and tires react to mechanical changes, which we can carry through to the rest of the test and onto Melbourne. We also tested a few new aero components, such as different engine covers, which behaved as expected, so we have a direction. We are now in a pretty good state after a week's running and look forward to completing our program with Giancarlo over the next two days."
Fernando Alonso came eighth-quick in the Renault R29-01. His 1:21.937 produced in 111 laps put the car through setup options as the Spaniard worked on mechanical balance and the team evaluated some new bits. "It was another good day for us, again covering lots of laps as we continue to get ready for the start of the season later this month," the only double world champion currently active in F1 said. "The track conditions were good, and we tried lots of things with the setup, which has given us lots of useful data to look through tonight. We also worked on the aero and mechanical balance of the car with some interesting results."
Said Christian Silk, Renault chief test engineer: "Another positive day with good reliability from the car. We managed to make good progress working steadily through the program and got a lot of setup work done and also did a bit of aerodynamic work in preparation for the first race in Melbourne. The car seems to be behaving well and responding nicely to the changes."
Behaving less well was the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso STR4-02, which kept Sebastien Bourdais to a day-low 14 laps when the front suspension packed up and left the team needing parts from the factory in Faenza, Italy. Bourdais's best time was put at 1:23.039. His rookie teammate, Sebastien Buemi, was left to do a few in and out laps, amounting to six, without time recorded. The opportunity gave Buemi a chance to make sure the seat fit and to do a few systems checks in his first opportunity in the new car. If you're taking the BBC Sport website quiz, Sebastien means "revered."
Heikki Kovalainen, continuing to run a new front wing, floor and top body, had another down-chart time in the McLaren MP4-24. Kovalainen's quickest lap was a 1:21.991 in 88 laps. The team used the damp track in the morning to work on pit stops.
The Finn was on his own in terms of driver support. Teammate Lewis Hamilton, FIA World Drivers' Champion, was at Buckingham Palace to visit the queen. Queen Elizabeth presented Hamilton, 24, with the token attached to his naming as a Member of the British Empire. The honor recognizes his achievement as the first mixed-race F1 champion and its youngest, a feat achieved in his second year in the sport. Hamilton, whose immediate family accompanied him to the ceremony, said receiving the honor and speaking to the queen as she pinned the accompanying medal to his lapel was "overwhelming."
"I was so nervous to meet her," Hamilton said. "It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I've ever had. I'm kind of lost for words. I don't think you realize until you're standing in front of her how special it is."
Hamilton said the queen told him she was watching the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix when he secured the title on the final turns of the final lap by overtaking Timo Glock for fifth place and the point sufficient to beat Felipe Massa, 98-97. He said the monarch, 83, asked about his car.
"The pressure's on now," he said. "She'll be watching as I go into the first race."
Hamilton was not the only British sportsman at the Palace on Tuesday. Canoeist Tim Brabants collected an MBE for winning Britain's first Olympic gold medal in the K1 1,000-meter race; he also won bronze in K1 500 meters. Cycling champion Jody Cundy earned an MBE for winning a fourth Paralympic gold. David Weir earned an MBE after winning the wheelchair division of the London Marathon four times.
Honors recognize merit in achievement and service. Tuesday's ceremony included an MBE for Tim Coulson, 54, of Oxfordshire, who helped the wounded and dying passengers from smoke-filled carriages during terrorist-directed train bombings in London in 2005.