Like a shipwrecked fisherman having found his survival suit, Toyota driver Jarno Trulli on Wednesday popped to the top of the unofficial time charts to end Formula One winter testing. Jarno Trulli, Toyota F1 Team, TF108. Photo by ...
Like a shipwrecked fisherman having found his survival suit, Toyota driver Jarno Trulli on Wednesday popped to the top of the unofficial time charts to end Formula One winter testing.
Trulli's 1-minute, 20.801-second fastest lap of 4.655-kilometer (2.889-mile) Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, Spain, marked certifiable progress for the German-based Japanese team that in six seasons has realized little chart-topping success in F1. Trulli put a significant gap, .457 seconds, between his TF108 and David Coulthard's Red Bull RB4, indication of a scant fuel load in qualifying simulation.
"Even though this is only a test, it's nice to see the mechanics and the guys smiling because today's times are good motivation," Trulli said. "There is still room for improvement but this shows the team has done a good job over the winter tests. Of course, we won't know the real running order until Melbourne, but I'm quite confident for the season. It's definitely looking much better than last year so I'm happy for the team."
Toyota exec for chassis Pascal Vasselon pronounced the effort good and the team ready to race.
"After Jarno's satisfying long run yesterday we did some very fruitful qualifying simulations today, so we feel ready for the first race," he said. "We have done enough mileage so far over the winter to be confident that we can head to Melbourne without any major concerns."
Although Italy-based Ferrari and Scuderia Toro Rosso next week will do a shakedown at Fiorano, Italy, of cars to be shipped to Australia, most teams now turn attention to shipping equipment for the season-opening race March 16 in Melbourne.
As if to send them off in style, weather conditions were perfect and allowed teams high mileage despite a littering of red flags. Concentrating on setup work, Felipe Massa was limited to 49 laps, by far the fewest, as drivers put in laps akin to race distances. Fernando Alonso led everyone with 128 laps.
Coulthard, who sat out Tuesday's test with a pinched neck nerve, stormed to second-quickest time, 1:21.258, in an RB4 with the latest aerodynamic updates to the Adrian Newey-designed RB4.
"The result of all the hard work is that the cars go to Australia having completed a high mileage, showing good reliability and what seems like an encouraging level of performance," Red Bull test chief Ian Morgan said. "Now it's a case of getting to Melbourne to see where we really are."
Following Coulthard was Williams driver Nico Rosberg in the Toyota-powered FW30 in another consistent showing, 1:21.293.
"We've had a very successful test and run through lots of items," Rosberg said. "We also ran the new aero package for Melbourne, which was positive. Reliabilitywise, we're looking pretty good, I think. We've definitely moved forward."
Only after Rosberg did a McLaren or a Ferrari surface. Barely. Heikki Kovalainen pulled a McLaren MP4-23 to fourth-quick, 1:21.309, ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull RB4 (1:21.368), and the Renault R28s of Nelson Angelo Piquet and Alonso, 1:21.443 and 1:21.454, respectively.
Kazuki Nakajima ran a 1:21.796 best lap in the Toyota-powered Williams ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's best Ferrari F2008 effort, 1:21.933. Raikkonen's day included a precautionary stop on an unspecified system.
McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton (1:22.011 in 103 laps) followed Raikkonen ahead of Timo Glock in the second Toyota (1:22.155 in 66 laps). Then came Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India (1:22.233, 102 laps) ahead of Massa (1:22.286). Fisichella's VJM01 suffered an exhaust problem during the team's race weekend simulation. The VJM01 was equipped with new aero package updates.
"We completed a race distance and, apart from the red flags, everything is going well," Fisichella said. "I am quite happy because, first of all, the car balance was very good, and then the times were very consistent. We are quite close to most of the other people, which is also encouraging. The team did a good job and I am very happy with the atmosphere now."
The BMW Saubers were surprisingly downfield, given previous test results. Robert Kubica followed Massa in 1:22.299 (93 laps). Nick Heidfeld (1:22.624, 61 laps), trailed Sebastien Bourdais of Toro Rosso (1:22.457, 98 laps), and Adrian Sutil of Force India (1:22.521, 107 laps). Heidfeld made a precautionary stop for a gearbox problem as the team continued setup and aero development work and practiced pit stops and starts.
Honda filled out the time sheet with Jenson Button well down on speed at 1:23.754 (89 laps), and Alex Wurz at 1:24.154 (109 laps). The Ross Brawn-led team can't be happy with the RA108's lack of speed this close to the season opener, but handling is a bigger concern. Not as if they've left it late, the team will conduct a private test session at Jerez, Spain, next week.
"Our focus this week was to run through the requirements of a race weekend with qualifying and race practice to ensure that we are well prepared for the start of the season," Button said. "Our main aero updates and some new mechanical developments will arrive for the Jerez test next week and we have a great deal to do there to ensure that we are in a position to be competitive for Melbourne. We have been doing a lot of work to overcome our handling issues, but the pace and the lap times are not there yet."
Honda's Jerez test will include introduction of what head engineer Steve Clark calls a "completely revised" aerodynamics package.
As teams closed testing -- with noted exceptions they won't have another test opportunity until after the Bahrain Grand Prix, April 6 -- focus narrowed.
"We had a large program to complete over the three days, and we were quite ambitious with what we were working on," Renault chief test engineer Christian Silk said. "For the most part, we managed to complete everything we wanted and we have completed all our homework in time for Melbourne.
"Between now and the first race, we need to tidy up the cars as much as possible, get all the new parts on the cars that we have looked at during testing to get them into race specification."
But for a few willing to express it, optimism crept in.
"Today marked the end of a long but productive winter test period, and Nico and Kazuki have worked hard all week on the finishing touches," Williams technical director Sam Michael said. "All of the systems on the FW30 have been checked thoroughly and we've signed off the performance parts ready for the first race. The car has completed numerous race simulations on the track, but we won't know its true competitiveness until the first few races.
"We can't wait to get to Melbourne to see how the field forms up and to get racing again."
Absent from the final formal test was Super Aguri, about whom reports have surfaced that fans are lobbying engine supplier and guardian angel Honda to ensure the cash-strapped team's survival.
McLaren news was away from the track in Surrey, England, where police accompanied Italian police to the McLaren Technology Center in Woking as well as to the homes of McLaren executives. Police are investigating last year's spy scandal that involved Ferrari documents showing up in the possession of McLaren employees.