Whether he's buying a London mansion with his Pussycat Doll girlfriend, calculating how to drive faster than a man on a bicycle, or otherwise gilding his golden life, world driving champion Lewis Hamilton has not been in Barcelona, Spain, this...
Whether he's buying a London mansion with his Pussycat Doll girlfriend, calculating how to drive faster than a man on a bicycle, or otherwise gilding his golden life, world driving champion Lewis Hamilton has not been in Barcelona, Spain, this week to test Formula One cars. The man who could become his chief rival has.
Sebastian Vettel again set fastest time during testing at Circuit de Catalunya on Wednesday. Driving a Red Bull RB4 over the 2.89-mile course in sunny, coolish conditions, Vettel cruised to a fast lap of 1 minute, 19.295 seconds in unofficial timing. He called the test useful and lauded the opportunity to get to know team engineers "to develop a common understanding between us."
Once again, he was closely chased by former Toro Rosso teammate Sebastien Bourdais. The former multiple Champ Car champion is in hot pursuit of the No. 1 spot at Toro Rosso, the one vacated by Vettel's move to Red Bull. Bourdais also dropped under the 1:20 mark, registering a 1:20.893 and becoming the only driver besides Vettel to do so at this test. Red Bull test driver for the 2008 season, Sebastien Buemi, put a modified STR3 third on time charts with a 1:20.154. Bourdais and Buemi completed 122 and 115 laps, respectively. Only Luca Badoer, testing alone for Ferrari, came close to such course coverage. Badoer covered 120 laps with a best lap of 1:22.866 in continuing engine-gearbox reliability evaluation in an F2008 modified as much as possible to 2009 rules.
"It's been a useful one-and-a-half days, trying various setup options to find the right direction for next year's car," Bourdais said. "Of course, the 2008 car was not designed to run on the '09 slick tires, which means you don't always have the necessary range of adjustment to exploit them fully, but it was an interesting experience nevertheless."
Toro Rosso's chief engineer Laurent Mekies said, "There was a twofold purpose to these three days, firstly evaluating drivers for next year and secondly assessing the 2009 Bridgestone slick tires, while running with the level of downforce we expect to have next season. The high number of laps completed means we have been able to carry out both these tasks to our satisfaction. On the tire front, we tried a variety of suspension and mechanical setup options, which means we have plenty of data to analyze."
Teams claim times are less relevant than ever with teams concentrating on adjusting to new rules including ones that affect engine wear, front-wing use, and the optional inclusion of kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). With no new chassis yet revealed, teams have adapted 2008 cars with aerodynamic and mechanical bits and bobs that reflect '09 rules. This test includes driver evaluations for the few teams whose driver lineups are not yet set. Other teams offered reward drives to champions from other series.
McLaren Mercedes test driver Gary Paffett finished the week's work without encountering difficulties. He posted fourth-quick time with a lap of 1:21.140 among 81. The team announced satisfaction with slick tire and aero configuration data collection as well as progress understanding KERS and how the device affects car dynamics.
Jenson Button continued a second day of testing a modified RA 108 for Honda. Besides tire evaluations, he tried aerodynamic and suspension settings in 94 laps, the best of which was a 1:21.387, fifth on time charts. "It's nice to be back in a car that I enjoy driving," Button said. "Taking a lot of the downforce off and running on slick tires suits my driving style a lot more than grooved tires. I've had a fun couple of days, and it's been very useful as we have tested many things which should help us with the new car. It's been a positive start to 2009 already and I'm very pleased. I've just got to keep pushing the team hard now to get the improvements that we are hoping to achieve for next year."
Bruno Senna drove a second Honda as part of the GP2 driver's job evaluation. The Brazilian logged 107 laps with a best of 1:21.676, ninth-best overall. Morning traffic frustrated his efforts, but he managed tire runs and setting consistent lap times through the afternoon. "Today has been a really good day and I'm very pleased," Senna said. "I've become a lot more comfortable and confident in the car, and I think that showed in the lap time, both in the actual time and also the consistency. We found some good setups and we were able to make a lot of progress through the day. Whether what I did today is good enough is for the team to decide now and I respect that. But for me personally, for my first time in a Formula One car, I have to be happy with what I achieved today."
Honda team boss Ross Brawn said, "The first test of the winter in Barcelona has seen us commence our on-track preparations for 2009, a season which will see the most significant change in Formula One's technical regulations for many years. We have been running two modified RA108 chassis with an aerodynamic package representative of the downforce levels required for next season.
"We have also conducted an intensive tire program with the Bridgestone Potenza slick tires. Having been sensible in the use of our tire allocation so far this year, we are in the best possible position to gain information about the new slicks ahead of the launch of our new car. Whilst the temperatures have been quite cool this week, which has affected the behavior of the tires, both the team and drivers are happy to see Formula One back on slicks."
BMW Sauber continued work with its kinetic energy recovery systerm, or KERS, car, on an F1.08B-06 modified as such. Test driver Christian Klien, sixth-quick, drove 88 laps, with a best of 1:21.534, his work interrrupted by a morning hydraulic leak in the drivetrain that put him off track. Carmaker BMW is among those keen to develop a KERS system for eventual road use. The device is optional in F1 for 2009. The system initially presented safety fears when a series of incidents involving fire and shocks came to light. The latest issue is weight.
Race driver Nick Heidfeld, seventh-quick, drove F1.08B-03 for 106 laps, best of which was 1:21.592, in continuing to test slick tires, which come in again for 2009. "Definitely, the slick tires provide more grip than the 2008 grooved tires," Heidfeld said. "On the other hand, we have to start from zero by learning how the slick tires heat up and for how many laps they deliver optimum performance."
Also new for '09 is a requirement that engines last three instead of two races, which had teams performing reliability testing. A new, power-adjustable front wing is also on the cards. Heidfeld collected data on these items and used various setups to test mechanical and aerodynamic changes.
Nelson Piquet, the only driver testing for Renault, drove the R28 without incident for 94 laps with a fast lap of 1:22.148, good for eighth on timesheets. "We had a busy morning, continuing with the work we began earlier this week by evaluating the tires and looking at some more development parts in preparation for next year," Piquet said. "The car still feels strange running with settings to simulate 2009, but we now have lots of data to work through, and so it has been a valuable few days for the team."
The only Williams on course was in the hands of tester Nico Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg worked through 52 laps, fewest of the day, with a fast lap of 1:22.410.
Force India race driver Giancarlo Fisichella closed out the test for the Indian team with 93 laps in an VJM01. His best lap was a 1:23.086. Pedro de la Rosa drove a second VJM01 for 88 laps, best of which was a 1:23.103.