On November 13th, just under a month after the final F1 race of 2007, on track preparations for 2008 got under way with the first winter test session at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. With no restriction on the number of cars a team may use, as...
On November 13th, just under a month after the final F1 race of 2007, on track preparations for 2008 got under way with the first winter test session at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. With no restriction on the number of cars a team may use, as there is in-season, 20 drivers from all 11 squads were present on the opening day. There were some new faces but one of the most well known of all was at the top of the list.
A year after retiring from racing Michael Schumacher was back at work behind the wheel of a Ferrari and set the best time of the day, 1:21.918. However, the seven-time former champion has insisted that he does not intend to return to competition. He and team test driver Luca Badoer, second quickest and a couple of tenths down, worked on electronics and component development for next year.
McLaren was not far behind and employed testers Pedro de la Rosa, third, and Gary Paffett, sixth. Their programme, much like many others, focused on preparing for the lack of driver aids in 2008. Paffett, who competed in the DTM this year, is one of the possibles to be teammate to Lewis Hamilton next season, as is de la Rosa, but for the moment McLaren is in no hurry to make any decisions.
In between them in fourth was the Renault of Heikki Kovalainen. He spent the morning setting up the car's balance and the afternoon was given over to long runs to test the new standard Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for 2008. The team reported no major difficulties and said it was not really affected by the numerous red flags. The early signs after this first day were "very encouraging".
"I have to say that driving without any assistance, as was the case today is really great," said Kovalainen, who was impatient to get back to work. "You have to pay attention to your driving, your reaccelerating, your tyre wear and behind the wheel it's fun. We did a good job on our first day back. The car reacted well to our set-up changes and I think that between now and Thursday we'll make a lot of progress."
BMW Sauber had both its race drivers on duty, Robert Kubica the quicker of the pair in fifth and Nick Heidfeld rounded off the top 10. They too got to grips, or perhaps lack of grip, with the ECU, including adapting to the lack of traction control, set up work and systems programmes. "Teething troubles" with the new electronics was the only glitch reported on a "productive day".
Red Bull had an old hand and a new face on track, David Coulthard seventh fastest and F1 debutante Karun Chandhok 18th. Coulthard ran with 2007 electronics but minus traction control as he worked on developments for 2008, while Chandhok, the 23 year-old Indian driver who competed in GP2 this year and won at Spa, carried out system checks with the new ECU.
Kazuki Nakajima, now officially a race driver for Williams, was eighth on the time sheet and teammate Nico Rosberg was 11th quickest. "The pair, driving interim FW29Bs, opened the winter programme with a constructive first day concentrating on component development," said test team manager Dickie Stanford. "Neither car suffered any major faults, and both drivers will return to the track tomorrow."
Jarno Trulli was the lead Toyota in ninth and team tester Franck Montagny was 12th. Trulli, who was suffering from a fever, didn't get on track until mid-morning but then worked on evaluation of 2008 components. His day was bought to a premature end by an engine problem in the afternoon. Montagny also had an early delay due to issues with the ECU but managed 61 laps once he got going.
"We managed to go through all of my programme and we looked at developments for the 2008 car, working without traction control and looking at other test items," said Trulli. "In general it was a smooth day apart from my engine problem at the end, which was a shame. We have two more days remaining so we will continue to work hard and try to make as much progress as possible."
Sebastian Vettel led the way for Toro Rosso with 13th quickest and Sebastien Bourdais made his debut as official race driver for the Italian squad, 15th. Vettel had the job of evaluating the ECU, as well as testing new brake material and suspension, while Bourdais tested aero components while running without traction control and engine braking systems. A couple of mechanical glitches delayed him in the morning.
Another GP2 driver making an appearance was Andreas Zuber, who was in the Honda cockpit and posted the 14th fastest time. Now that the team and third driver Christian Klien have parted company, James Rossiter sidled back from his Super Aguri testing role and resumed duties at Honda, although whether that proves to be a long-term situation is yet to be seen. Rossiter was 17th on the time sheet.
Last but not least was the newly-christened Force India team, formerly known as Spyker. Sporting an interim red and white livery the cars of testers Giedo van der Garde and Roldan Rodriguez were 19th and 20th respectively. Racer Adrian Sutil takes over on Wednesday and Klien and former Toro Rosso man Tonio Liuzzi will try out for the team as they search for race seats for next season.