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Hamilton sets Barcelona early pace (with pictures)

NEWS STORY
01/02/2008

Lewis Hamilton set the pace on the first day of testing at Barcelona today, as eight teams continued their preparations for the 2008 season, which gets underway in exactly six weeks today.

Other than the intense cold in the morning, conditions were fine, with no rain, and though much of the days was slightly overcast, the sun did eventually break through.

Hamilton was joined by Gary Paffett, as the Woking team focussed on tyre evaluation, with the Circuit de Catalunya providing a more high speed and abrasive surface compared to the previous test sessions.

Today was Paffett's first run in the MP4-23, and it was also his first test without driver aids. As a result the English youngster spent some time during the day familiarising himself with the 2008 package and during this process had a number of spins, contributing to the high number of red flag stoppages.

Ironically - think about it - just 0.6s behind Hamilton was Fernando Alonso in the new Renault. The Spaniard was joined by Nelson Piquet as the French team operated a two-car programme for the first time this year. Both drivers, fresh from their appearance in Paris, where the car was launched on Thursday, were in R28s as the team continues to familiarise itself with the new car.

Alonso had a productive day and concentrated on improving the balance of the car as the track conditions improved. It was the chance to add further miles to the car following a successful shakedown test in Valencia last week. Similarly, Piquet spent the day working on set-up as he continues to adapt to the R28

"It was a really easy programme today," said the Spaniard, "because on the first day the track is always dirty and not in very good condition. You need to run at least one day to get the track into a condition where you can test important things. Today we put some new parts on the car which we had introduced in Valencia, and we tried to evaluate them. Everything was positive and went according to plan, but tomorrow is when we will start the real programme."

"I am still getting used to the car," added Piquet, "so I spent the day trying to find a good rhythm. But we had a few disruptions to the programme, which limited my time in the car and we probably did not get as much done as we would have liked. But this is only the first day of running; we still have two days ahead of us, and Fernando had a good day, which is positive and we are certainly making progress."

"This test was the first time we have run with two R28s," said Christian Silk, "so it was an important day and there was a big effort from everyone. Both drivers had reasonable programmes, but to start with the balance of the car was poor so we had to spend the day working on that. By the end of the day we had found a reason balance and we were quite happy with the performance of the car. Fernando completed most of his programme, but Nelson had a few delays, so we can hopefully make some more progress in the next couple of days."

Following earlier concerns regarding balance, the BMWs appeared much improved today, with both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld in the Top 5. Avoiding the low track temperatures in the early morning (around 6 °C) the German team didn't start 'proper testing' until after 11.00.

Kubica and Heidfeld worked on the set- up of the F1.08 using some new mechanical parts. Although low temperatures and the red flag periods meant that the drivers were unable to do as many laps as originally planned, the changes showed promising results. Robert also conducted several practice pit stops.

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