Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus throw down the gauntlet as the first pre-season test comes to an end at Jerez de la Frontera, though the Finn fails to beat Felipe Massa's Thursday best and Vettel's pace on the hard compound is worrying.
The 2007 world champion continued yesterday's programme of aerodynamic assessments as the fine weather continued, however proceedings were interrupted by red flag periods including a lengthy pause for track repairs, meaning the session concluded thirty minutes later than scheduled.
Amongst the boxes that needed to be ticked by The Iceman today were; systems checks, temperature monitoring, data correlation, assessment of the performance of the car with its initial aerodynamic package and exhaust exit evaluations. In total, the Finn completed 83 laps on his way to posting the best time of the day and the second best of the week.
"We continued our work from yesterday and made some good progress," said Raikkonen. "We're at the top of the timing monitors, but that means nothing in testing. Our focus has been testing parts on the car, but I've been able to get the set-up more to my liking. For sure there's more work to be done in this area, but that's what we're here for. The car feels strong and we seem to have a good idea of where we're going with improvements. Let's see what happens in Barcelona."
"After the orgy of work at the factory to prepare the car over the winter months it is always a welcome relief once the testing campaign finally kicks off," admitted Technical Director, James Allison, "not because the pressure backs off, but because we get a chance - finally - to see what we have been working on.
"It is tremendously exciting for the whole team," he continued, "but very nerve wracking as well. We desperately want the performance to be good, but we are all aware of the thousands of potential traps in bringing a complex car to the track for the first time. We have had a good first test. The car seems competitive, and while there is always a background hubbub of problems to be solved, we are delighted with the basic reliability of the E21. With Jerez now behind us, our thoughts have already turned to Barcelona in ten days' time. There is a mountain of work ahead, but we are looking forward to our next opportunity to run the car."
For the third day this week Force India split its driver duties, Jules Bianchi running this morning before handing over to Paul di Resta. Between them the pair completed 105 laps on a day on which three drivers exceeded the 'magic number'.
"My first experience of the new car was very positive," said Bianchi, who remains hopeful of securing the second seat, "and it's clearly an improvement over last year's car. I spent most of the time on the medium tyres, but I got a chance to run the softs as well and they offered a lot of grip so I enjoyed that. It was also nice to do some long runs, so I've felt the car on heavy fuel, which is good for my experience. I'm pleased the team asked me to help out this week and I'm happy with how things went today."
"Overall it's been a positive test," added di Resta. "We've worked our way through the programme set by the factory, done some aero mapping, explored the set-up and gathered lots of data. We covered a lot of laps and I'm feeling comfortable with the car. The main challenge at the moment is learning about the tyres, but we have lots of information to help us move in the right direction before the Barcelona test."
"We leave Jerez feeling pretty satisfied with the work we have completed and what we have learned about the VJM06," said Chief Race Engineer, Jakob Andreasen. "We've completed a lot of aero mapping and carried out a big tyre evaluation programme, so reviewing all that data will be our focus in the build-up to the Barcelona test.
"It's good that we have a ten-day break because that should give us enough time to evaluate our performance and really understand where we stand. As always, the trackside guys have worked incredibly hard this week, supported by the factory, and that has allowed us to maximise the time on track with the new car."
Sebastian Vettel concluded Red Bull's programme with another 96 laps, the German claiming that the RB9's good reliability across the four-day programme had been the key to a successful week.
"I think for the whole team it's been quite a good test," he said. "No problems in terms of reliability and we did a lot of laps, so I'm quite pleased with the results. I feel a bit better than last year. I think we had some issues with reliability then, so it seems we have done our homework well.
"Regarding the stoppage today, I don't know why the track started to break up but I guess everyone is on the limit here, running wide, using the maximum amount of track and the kerbs and unfortunately it started to break up. But the circuit did a very good job over lunch to get everything sorted and gave us an extra half hour at the end, so no real problem.
"Looking ahead, I think the Barcelona test will maybe reveal a bit more, but just because people are running more and teams will play around a bit more there. So if you keep your eyes open you might spot some stuff," he added. "However, as I've said before, we just focus on what we do. In Barcelona we'll learn more about ourselves and maybe a little bit about our rivals. It should be interesting."
"Our final day here in Jerez has again been a good one," added Race Engineering Co-ordinator, Andy Damerum, "even if there were a few interruptions. Obviously we had the stoppage for the track repair and then late in the day we ended our work early when we had a small problem with one of the test items we were evaluating. Nothing serious but after that we felt that it was a good time to bring the shutters down on the week's work.
"On the whole we've had a very good first test. I think both drivers would say they're happy. We put another 425km on the car today, which means we've logged a total of 1,652km this week, which is very satisfying. Next week we'll pour through all the data, learn from it and then head to Barcelona for the second test."
Sauber concluded the test with Esteban Gutierrez at the wheel once again, the Mexican youngster competing an impressive 142 laps. Amongst other things, Gutierrez tested brakes and familiarised himself with the different tyre compounds.
In total drivers Hulkenberg and Gutierrez have completed 430 laps over the last four days in the C32 which has proved to be extremely reliable.
"It was a very positive day," said the Mexican, "because we managed to do a lot of laps. We did some new tyre runs at mid-day, and then we did some long runs with high fuel in the afternoon, which gave me the chance to try the car in all different circumstances. It was very interesting for me, because I was able to feel very different things, and I learnt how to adapt my driving style to different situations. It was great to do this at a test, because now I have time to analyse it all and then go to Barcelona on a stronger basis. I'm really happy how things went."
"Another very productive day," added Tom McCullough, the Swiss outfit's Head of Track Engineering. "In the morning we concentrated on set-up work and tyre testing, so that Esteban was able to become familiar with all compounds. In the afternoon he did long-runs with pit stops so the team could work on procedures, allowing Esteban to have experience of how the tyres degrade during the long runs. He did an excellent job during the two days.
"As a team we can be very happy with the four day test. We had a lot of test items to work on which, with excellent car reliability, we were able to get through. Both drivers are giving very good feedback, and are integrating very well with their engineers. For us as a team it was a very encouraging first test. We have a lot of valid data as a basis to make further progress, and we are all looking forward to the next test in Barcelona."
Jean-Eric Vergne completed his second day at the wheel of the STR8, the Frenchman completing 92 laps on the way to posting the fifth best time of the day.
"We can be satisfied with these first four days of testing," said team boss, Franz Tost. "The car showed reasonable potential and reliability was not too bad, which meant we completed a respectable number of laps, first with Daniel and then with Jean-Eric.
"In contrast to this test last year, when they were rookies, both of them knew what to do and what to expect," he continued. "However, the two of them had to get used to working with new race engineers and that part of the test also progressed well.
"There is absolutely no point in talking about car performance at this stage," he insisted. "The most important task we face now is to analyse everything we have done over the past four days in Jerez, so as to decide what our priorities will be in Barcelona in eleven days' time, when we start the second test session."
"We have made progress throughout the four days," said Vergne, "and in terms of pure mechanical understanding of the car, we've made a significant step forward compared to last year and, specifically today, we got through all our planned work programme. I am much more confident about the new car than I was before the test and it gives me a good feeling from behind the wheel.
"One of the aims of the design team was to give us drivers a car with a broader operating range in terms of set-up options and I can already say they have succeeded in that point. There is still a lot to do, so I'm looking forward to my next session in Barcelona."
After Wednesday, it was an altogether different day for Lewis Hamilton, the English driver completing a mammoth 145 laps - as opposed to the 15 he completed before crashing out earlier in the week
Hamilton's running this morning concentrated on set-up changes as he familiarised himself with the car and following the delay to repair the track surface he focused on completing a race distance. This was successfully completed during the afternoon with further valuable miles put on the new car.
"After a difficult first half of the test, the last two days have really been as good as we could have hoped for," said Ross Brawn. "Nico is probably best placed to compare between last year's car and the new F1 W04 and he seems pretty enthusiastic, but it is hard to have any reliable feeling of where we stand relative to the competition.
"Lewis had a very constructive day today as he settled in to the car; he has been very straightforward in telling us what he thinks, is interested in everything about the car and has a very good eye for detail. Overall, the step we have to make from where we were at the end of last year is substantial and it is also, of course, a moving target. But looking at the team as a whole, I can see very encouraging signs of progress.
"Today we managed the kind of mileage that the car is capable of and I think we have a good platform to start working from," said Hamilton. "Now we need to understand the F1 W04 even more: personally, I am learning something with every lap I do and every change I make to the set-up.
"Overall, I think we are probably at the level we would have hoped to be," he continued. "The team has done a great job to add downforce to the car over the winter and they now need Nico and me to tell them where we can improve and the direction we need to go. Everybody has been incredibly supportive and I am really building a good bond with the team; they feel energised, ready to go and everybody is working flat out to move us forward."
Sergio Perez was back on duty for McLaren as he continued to acquaint himself with his new team and car. Following a similar pattern to the past three days, the day began with some aero correlation work, conducted over a number of shorter runs, before the team turned its attention to mechanical set-up work.
As yesterday, the afternoon was spent carrying out a series of longer runs - with live pit-stops - to more fully understand the set-up changes
According to the team: "Our first test with MP4-28 has been extremely productive: despite a few reliability issues on the opening days, running has largely been trouble-free. Jenson has expressed his initial confidence with the new car, and Checo has played himself in quickly, completing nearly 800km in his first week. He already feels comfortable behind the wheel of a McLaren."
"We have had a very good four days," said Mike Coughlan, the Grove outfit's Technical Director. "We have gone through a complete programme testing various parts that will be used on the FW35. This compliments our current philosophy of using rigs to pass off systems before running them on the car.
"The drivers have enjoyed themselves running through tyre comparisons and set-up changes that you would be reluctant to do at a race meeting due to time constraints. Although these results have been a little compromised by the very aggressive nature of the track surface here, we have acquired some useful data to carry forward. We now look forward to the next test in Barcelona and the launch of the FW35."
"It's been a good four days for us," said Bottas, "and I've really enjoyed the last two days in particular when I've been driving the car. We have achieved everything we planned this week without any issues, and I've really liked how the new technical team have been working. We collected some valuable data regarding some parts for the new car and now I'm excited to go to Barcelona to drive the FW35 for the first time."
At Ferrari it was a day of contrasting fortunes for Pedro de la Rosa. On only his second installation lap, the Spaniard had to stop the car with a technical problem on the gearbox which resulted in a fire. The team then worked for the rest of the morning to put it right.
The afternoon however was more productive, especially as the end of testing was put back by half an hour to make up for the time lost when the track required maintenance work. The Spaniard was thus able to complete his programme, which had been revised as a result of the long stop in the garage and which focused mainly on testing various aerodynamic configurations.
"All in all it's been a positive day for me," said the Spaniard, "I finally got a feel for the car and that will be very important when it comes to comparing the data with the simulator as we develop the car. We are not yet where we want to be on our simulation and there will be a lot of work to do, but that's why I've been taken on and in my own small way I hope to do my best to contribute to the progress of the Scuderia.
"I had a lot of mixed feelings today: I was very excited to drive the car but when I got out after the first two laps I was not exactly happy. All my life I've been waiting for an opportunity like this and to see it end after just a few corners was definitely not nice, especially because I wasn't sure that we would be able to continue with the programme. But then the team did an amazing job and it was vital to get back on track given how few days are available to us."
Charles Pic was one of three drivers who completed over 100 laps, the Frenchman's best time just a smidgeon of de la rosa's best, albeit with soft tyres.
"109 laps today is a good way to finish the first test," said Pic. "The track was colder this morning than the first three days so it was tricky getting the tyres to work, but we completed all the programs we'd set for the day and we have some very useful information to work on, and some interesting options to look at for the next test.
"One key part of this test was to work on getting the most out of KERS and we've definitely made good progress on that. There's still more to come from that, especially maximising its performance under braking, but I'm really happy with what we've worked through and can't wait to get back in the car in Barcelona."
Further race distance mileage was the order of the day at Marussia, during which the team gathered essential aero test and tyre data to feed back into the development cycle.
The programme was not without its frustrations, namely 'the hole', however, once the Russian team was able to get up and running again, Razia completed the race distance before heading into performance evaluation work. Although he was posting improved lap times, his runs were somewhat stilted which prevented him gathering any real momentum.
"It is unfortunate that we didn't get the smooth day of running we hoped for," said Razia, "but we have to be happy to have completed most of our programme with the MR02 this week. Testing is the place to work through our problems, so we don't have to find them during the season, and resolving these is in itself good progress. I got the chance to do some of the planned performance work later on, but I didn't get a clear shot at it so I don't feel like I ended the day where I could have been in terms of lap time.
"What is good is that there is a lot of potential and we can see this very clearly," he continued. "I'm very excited about the next two tests and I expect to see us making good steps forward. For now, I will reflect on a busy but exciting first week as a Formula 1 driver and what I myself can do to keep developing. I would like to thank the team for welcoming me back so enthusiastically and I am happy that we have established a good working relationship already. All good things from here, I'm sure."
"We leave Jerez today feeling very encouraged with the understanding we have achieved of the MR02 and the progress we have made gathering data to feed back into the development cycle," added John Booth. "The week has not been without its frustrations, but that's all part and parcel of pre-season testing and we are naturally keen to find any issues with the package early so we can iron them out for the next two tests and the season. In the free air we have achieved out on track, we have taken great encouragement from the baseline performance of the car and the obvious potential for development as the season progresses.
"We've had a very busy week with our new drivers, bringing them further into the fold - particularly Luiz, who hasn't had the benefit of driving our 2012 package. Both he and Max have performed very well and even at this early stage we can see that we are in for an exciting season as they reveal even more of their own potential. Importantly, they are working well 'together' which will be key to extracting the maximum from team and car this season.
"Perhaps the most satisfying thing about this week's test is the fact that we are in completely different shape to how we were this time last year. Heading into Australia we had just 100kms of mileage to our name, whereas we leave Jerez tonight having achieved almost 1000kms of running and a good deal of data for the engineers to pore over next week. All in all, a very good start for us and our partners Cosworth and Williams Advanced Engineering."
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