Old Rivals Top Times As Test Reaches Mid-Point

The man that everyone had their attention on made sure it wasn’t relinquished by setting the fastest time on the first day of pre-season testing at the Jerez circuit. From his first timed lap, he went to the top of the timesheets, a position he kept for the rest of the day. His  fastest lap-time of 1:19.670 in the Lotus remained unbeaten throughout the day. From morning onwards, representatives from the top three teams in Button (McLaren), Webber (Red Bull) and Massa (Ferrari) spent their day in the same vein as everyone else on track. With a mixture of heavy and low-fuel runs and car set-up work, the aim was to ensure reliability wasn’t a problem.

The Iceman was quickest on the first day

Times are not something to read into just yet, that will be more meaningful come the second set of tests, at Barcelona in two weeks time as all teams should have their 2012 cars running by that stage. Raikkonen echoed the statement and was cautious following his session-topping time:

“It makes no difference,I mean it’s the first day, and it would make a difference if it were a race weekend, but here it means nothing. I did exactly what the team were planning, or not exactly because we missed a few laps when we had a small issue. We tried different things, we did a few checks. But we did also quite a lot of the normal things you have to do on a first day yesterday, so that was a help to get rid of those. But it was a pretty normal first day.”

The Finn’s old foe Michael Schumacher said of his pleasure in seeing his old rival return to action:

“I’m happy for him, very happy for him. It is the first day and let’s see at the end of the three days  and then we can make a proper judgement of what those times were worth. But I am really happy for the team and for him. It’s great to have so many world champions on the grid. It is going to be a good show for all of us.”

Kobayashi set the highest mileage of either day

Setting the highest mileage of the day was Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was pleased with his running despite a stoppage for runing out of fuel and said that he feels his team’s new car is faster than it’s predecessor:

“Performance-wise, this year is much quicker,” said Kobayashi. “This is Formula 1 where always the rules try to reduce the speed but the laptimes get quicker. I looked at last year’s test times and it our pace was off, but the track here is still dirty and my car is still not set up. The feel of the car is pretty similar to last year and the laptime is a lot better.

The Scot is excited about the year ahead

Another happy camper day 1 was Force India’s Paul Di Resta as he too covered over 100 laps and was excited at the improvements his squad had made:

“The whole thing seems a lot better, but you know we’ve achieved 101 laps on the first day out, so the mileage and the reliability was good which is always a positive,” he said. “Now all this test is about is gathering information. It’s not about performance. the car is well balanced and where we put it on track is where we ended up, which gives you encouragement about what’s going on in the background with simulations and stuff, and that it is working right because that’s where we have migrated to.”

Day 1 Times

Pos.  Driver                                   Team                                          Fastest Lap   Relative    No. of laps completed

 1.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault          1m19.670s            73
 2.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes   1m19.772s  + 0.102  101
 3.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes               1m20.219s  + 0.549   56
 4.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault       1m20.496s  + 0.826   53
 5.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m20.694s  + 1.024   57
 6.  Michael Schumacher   Mercedes               1m20.794s  + 1.124   41
 7.  Kamui Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari         1m21.353s  + 1.683  106
 8.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes       1m21.530s  + 1.860   60
 9.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari                1m22.815s  + 3.145   69
10.  Heikki Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault       1m23.178s  + 3.508   28
11.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault       1m23.371s  + 3.701   25
11.  Pedro de la Rosa     HRT-Cosworth           1m23.676s  + 4.006   44

Day 2 of this week’s test took place on Wednesday, and it was Raikkonen’s former championship rival Michael Schumacher who ended the day quickest. On a morning where the teams seemed to focus on quicker, shorter, runs, the German’s time of 1:18.561 was the leader of the pack and quickest of the week so far.  Mercedes have yet to unveil their 2012 challenger and it was in their 2011 car in which the German ran during the day. Of the 2012 models, Mark Webber was quickest in 2nd, over half a second down on the 7-time champion.

Running 2011 car on 2012-spec tyres, Schumi was quickest

The onus for Mercedes is to challenge the top three teams after two years of failing to do so. Schumacher however, feels that while they can improve performance, a strong title challenge is not likely to be on the horizon:

I don’t think we can realistically achieve a championship car immediately from where we started last year, we have to build our way there. I am confident we can do that, but let’s take it step by step. We work longer on our car, but if this was the only secret we should have shown all the cars later.”

Even the greatest of all-time can suffer tyre troubles

When Schumacher drove before his come-back in 2010, the tyres he ran with for most of that period were made by Japanese tyre manufacturer Bridgestone. From 2010, Italian company Pirelli make the tyres for all the cars and they demand a different driving style than the Bridgestones. This is something which Schumacher struggled with 2010 but began to get on top of last season. Furthermore, he spoke of feeling more comfortable yet with the 2012=spec wheels:

We made some very good work with the new tyres, which are certainly much better for a driver – they are more consistent and a lot closer to what you would expect from a Formula 1 tyre. Understanding those tyres was our main focus and we had a programme we did pretty well with.”

Ricciardo's moved teams from HRT for the following season

The other Australian on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo, is confident that with the chance to get pre-season testing under his belt for the first time in his career, he can show what he can do in a competitive car:

“There’s a bit more motivation now that its my car for the season, which makes you focus 110 per cent on every little detail,” he explained. “It’s a bigger deal than last year. Even when I was a test driver the car is not yours. Now the car is built around you, and you have the comfort of being the driver. It’s a nice feeling to have my own car – I’m not sure I’ll name it like [Sebastian] Vettel, but I will look after it. When something is yours you get that bit more serious – that’s just nature.”

Button showed surprise at the lack of impact rule changes had on car handling

Higher up the pecking order, Jenson Button told of his surprise that the cars were not as different as he expected following the rule changes which banned 2011’s exhaust-blown diffuser, the season’s gizmo which when functioning as intended, gave great performance gains as it increased the downforce and grip:

I was surprised,” he said. “I would have thought we would have had more issues under braking because the downforce that the top teams were producing from the blown diffuser last year was staggering and to lose that much, you would think that you would struggle, and the difference between on throttle and off throttle you think would be massive but it is not such an issue. I suppose you balance whatever grip you have, and that is what we have done. I don’t feel it is a massive issue. It is not something I would point at and say that is a weakness of the car.

He also shares the opinion that there shall not be a runaway winner this season:

The regulations are very different now, so I think you will see the cars a lot more bunched up this season, especially at the start of the year,” Button added.

“When racing gets underway and you are always improving the car during the season then the field will split a little more but at the start of the year I think you are going to have a lot of cars that are within a few tenths.

“It is great, great for the sport – it just makes it more complicated and difficult for us.”

To no one’s surprise, Aussie Mark Webber declared his Red Bull team to continue being a strong force for the following season:

“The car was pretty competitive in winter testing last year and it’s the same again this year,” said Webber. “We know that Ferrari and McLaren will be there and Mercedes don’t have a car yet but will bring it to Barcelona. We feel that we are prepared to do well, but we have to keep improving. Overall, there are no big surprises. We have an idea of what the car can do in terms of time. You are always anxious and nervous still. We are a long way from Melbourne and can’t get excited about things today. The team is massively experienced and we don’t get hooked up in winter testing excitement.”

Schumacher peers through the eyes of a veteran

The last word following the opening two days of testing goes to Michael Schumacher. The German always said that his come-back was a three -year project, and that he would make up his mind whether to continue beyond 2012 when the time was right. While he may not have the car of times gone by or the wide-spread support of the public in his quest to win again, his belief that he can clain an eigth crown remains intact and was confident when asked if could win another world championship:

“Absolutely. I’m still around to fight for the championship. Whether we can or cannot do that is something to be proven this year – or whenever.”

Day 2 Times

Pos. Driver              Team           Laptime    Relative  No. Of Laps Completed
1.  Michael Schumacher   Mercedes       1m18.561s           132
2.  Mark Webber          Red Bull       1m19.184s  + 0.623   97
3.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso     1m19.587s  + 1.026  100
4.  Jules Bianchi        Force India    1m20.221s  + 1.660   46
5.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus          1m20.239s  + 1.678  117
6.  Paul di Resta        Force India    1m20.272s  + 1.711   69
7.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari        1m20.454s  + 1.893   95
8.  Jenson Button        McLaren        1m20.688s  + 2.127   85
9.  Sergio Perez         Sauber         1m20.711s  + 2.150   68
10.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams       1m21.197s  + 2.636   97
11.  Heikki Kovalainen    Caterham       1m21.518s  + 2.957  139
12.  Pedro de la Rosa     HRT            1m22.128s  + 3.567   64

Testing continues tomorrow when Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso amongst others will get their hands on their new cars for the first time.

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