Circuit de Catalunya
Practice and testing rolled in one
Montmelo, Barcelona 20 May - In the space of just three hours, divided into today’s two 90 minute free practice sessions, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro completed the sort of mileage normally achieved in a full day of pre-season testing. Even allowing for the fact that at test sessions, each team only uses one car, whereas here we had both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in action, it is still a significant achievement.
The reason for all this intense activity is the big push on the development of the 150º Italia, which involved bringing the concrete results of all the theoretical work carried out back in Maranello in recent weeks for the real test at the race track. However, unlike a normal test session, here at the Catalunya circuit, the drivers and engineers cannot concentrate simply on the development work: instead they must do that while at the same time remembering they have a qualifying session to tackle tomorrow afternoon and a race the following day.
Therefore all the usual Friday jobs, working on set-up and evaluating the Pirelli tyres also had to be squeezed into the very tight schedule. Fernando ended the day fifth fastest, while Felipe was eighth on the time sheet, the Brazilian surviving an off-track excursion without damaging his car.
It almost goes without saying that a Red Bull was fastest: this time it was the one driven by the 2010 Spanish GP winner, Mark Webber, while Lewis Hamilton was second quickest for McLaren. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was third fastest ahead of Jenson Button in the other McLaren, while Nico Rosberg was sixth in the Mercedes behind Alonso. Tyre degradation was seen to be high during winter testing here in Montmelo and that has not changed with the increase in temperatures since then.
Therefore it looks as though tyre strategy could again be the key, just as it was in Turkey, although that strategy needs to take the qualifying hour into consideration, not just the race, as drivers opt for the best compromise between setting a very fast lap time to get a good grid position and saving tyres for the race.