F1

Skies brighten, hasten F1 testing

Skies brighten, hasten F1 testing

Think he could get bored with this? Not so far, judging by times put up by Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi on Wednesday at Algarve Motor Park in southern Portugal. At the wheel of an STR3-04, Buemi was again fastest during Formula One...

Think he could get bored with this? Not so far, judging by times put up by Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi on Wednesday at Algarve Motor Park in southern Portugal. At the wheel of an STR3-04, Buemi was again fastest during Formula One winter testing where five teams are taking part.

Sebastien Buemi, Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

After dreadful weather that eventually stopped proceedings Tuesday, teams were cheered to see merely morning damp on the 2.9-mile track. That dried by afternoon, allowing slick-tire use. Buemi drove 128 laps with a fast lap of 1 minute, 27.987 seconds. Conditions were so good the scuderia scrapped lunch to keep running. Work concentrated on suspension systems on the Ferrari-powered car.

Williams's driver Nico Rosberg, finishing his stint before teammate Kazuki Nakajima steps in Thursday, was quickest among 2009-model runners. Rosberg took advantage of drier conditions by running a hefty 143 laps in the FW31, the quickest: 1:29.729.

"We had a wet track for the first couple of hours in Portimao today, but by late morning it had dried out enabling us to run slick tires on the FW31 for the first time," team technical director Sam Michael said. "It was a constructive day as we worked through a lot of the items on our job list, including systems checks, aerodynamic and mechanical performance tests. The FW31 reliably completed just over 670 kilometers (402 miles) today on only its third day on track. Kazuki will take over from Nico for the last day of testing tomorrow and for his first run in the new car."

Rosberg nearly doubled the work rate of world driving champion Lewis Hamilton, who put in 81 laps in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-24, laps reduced by an engine gremlin. The problem was addressed without a change. Hamilton turned a 1:30.242 fast lap in his first work since winning the title in Brazil in November.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-24.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It was good to be back working with the team," Hamilton said. "It felt like I've hardly been away because it was easy to slip back into the routine. It's amazing to think that while I've been to (McLaren headquarters) throughout the winter, I haven't properly driven a Formula One car since the Brazilian Grand Prix two months ago. But everything very quickly felt normal today. This first test was all about just getting used to the new car and the new regulations and about giving my feedback to the engineers. It wasn't about setting a fast time. I'm pleased to report that the car feels good, we've made lots of progress over the winter, and I'm looking forward to developing the car ahead of the Australian Grand Prix."

Hamilton kept a foot in each rules book by using a 2008-spec rear wing and intermediate tires in the morning damp. Engineers changed the rear wing to the high design for '09 and slicks were put on for a dry afternoon. Those aren't the only adaptations. In-season testing is gone in favor of practice laps on race Fridays. Scrambling to prepare for the season's March 29 start must be done this week and in barely more than a fortnight of test days.

"It's going to be an extremely busy winter," Hamilton said. "I've only been in the car for one day and our usual job list for the weeks ahead is already enormous. With the limitations on testing during the season and the few sessions we have over the next two months, this is going to be an intense time and absolutely crucial for every team."

Toyota's Timo Glock, who followed Hamilton to the finish line in Brazil, followed the Englishman again on unofficial time sheets. The German's fast lap was 1:30.878 among 65 completed in the TF109.

The only double world champion currently working, Spaniard Fernando Alonso took to the wheel of the Renault R29-01 to compile the team's first dry-track data. He drove nearly 243 miles, 86 laps with a quickest of 1:31.743.

Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team, R29.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It is very early days with the new car and so we keep discovering things and improving our understanding with every lap," Alonso said. "There are so many things to learn in a short time and we need to maximize our time on track, so to do so many laps today was a good effort. The program for tomorrow will be more of the same and, hopefully, the weather will remain dry."

Chief test engineer Christian Silk liked the improvements.

"It was a better day today and the car ran very well," Silk said. "It was also a busy day as we tried to make up for the time lost to the poor weather earlier in the week, and we managed to get a lot of items for the test ticked off. So we have a lot of good information which we will go through tonight and pick out the details from so we can make the most of the final day tomorrow."

BMW Sauber, who lost major backer Credit Suisse this week, enjoyed a second day of sunshine at their private test in Valencia, Spain, of the freshly unveiled F1.09. The new car got what the team called a proper runout by race driver Robert Kubica, 99 laps. The focus was brakes and tire compounds. No times were released.

"Although it was quite windy in the afternoon, the conditions were better than yesterday because the track is building up grip with every lap I drive," Kubica said. "The progress we made during the day shows that we are moving in the right direction with the development of the F1.09."

Kubica covered 99 laps of the nearly 2.5-mile Ricardo Tormo circuit. BMW Sauber expect an even more concentrated run at a world title this season. They finished third in the constructors' race; Kubica finished on 75 points, the third-highest total, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

At Mugello, Italy, Felipe Massa stepped back into the F60 after giving the new car its first shakedown last week. Massa took over testing from Raikkonen, whose two days were rain-enhanced. The Brazilian worked on a track damp throughout on an overcast day featuring scattered showers and chilly temperatures. Massa continued development miles, if without slicks, finishing 104 laps with a best of 1:33.353.

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