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Day Three at Valencia: Alonso on Top

Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari F10

The Formula 1 test at Valencia concluded today, and once again Ferrari was vaulted to the head of the time sheets.  Today it was Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, rather than Felipe Massa, however.  It was Alonso’s first opportunity to test the F10, and he seemed to adjust to the new machinery very quickly.  He managed to set the quickest time of the three-day session, clocking a lap in the mid 1:11’s.

The runner up time once again belonged to Sauber, with Pedro de la Rosa handling testing duties. His best lap was 0.69 slower than Alonso’s. This makes the third day that the Sauber has been second quickest.  Either they have a major performance enhancement over last year’s car, or they’re running extremely low fuel loads.

Michael Schumacher was again third quickest today in the Mercedes GP.  He set a respectable time in the mid 1:12’s, and although this was nearly half a second better than team mate Nico Rosberg’s best time in the car yesterday, it was nearly a full second adrift of Alonso’s hottest lap today.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn was cautiously optimistic about the team’s performance thus far.  As reported in Autosport, Brawn said, “It’s always very difficult to judge. On full tanks yesterday, we didn’t look too bad but we’re a little bit off on pace and [there are problems with] the handling and balance of the car which we can fix for [the next test in] Jerez. We know what the problem is.”

Clearly, though, Brawn wasn’t entirely satisfied.  While he views their current performance level as a baseline for further developments, he also knows that his rivals, who already look string, will soon have upgrades in the pipeline as well. “Of course the other teams will be progressing as well,” he said, “so we are reasonable, [although] not as quick as Ferrari and Lewis looked quick yesterday. So it looks like we’ve got a bit of work to do.”

Pos. Driver Team Time Laps
1 Alonso Ferrari 1:11.470 127
2 de la Rosa BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1:12.094 80
3 M.Schumacher Mercedes GP 1:12.438 82
4 Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:12.576 97
5 Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:12.951 82
6 Petrov Renault 1:13.097 75
7 Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:13.669 126

Michael Schumacher echoed Brawn’s sentiments, by lowering expectations for the new car’s early success, and emphasizing the potential to be realized through a strong development curve.  “I wouldn’t expect to be winning right from the beginning,” Schumacher said. “It wasn’t something that I was aiming for and expecting to be the case. But we need to be strong enough on development.”

As for Alonso, he too was conservative in his interpretation of today’s results.  “It’s just the first day,” he said, “and as I said now at least for me the priority was getting completely comfortable. There are many things to discover for me, many things to learn. I think maybe if we topped the times the three days is related to fuel load or whatever, or maybe because it’s true we are competitive.

He also sounded a note of caution, referring to the misleading early test performance of his Renault last year, which, by season’s end, he publicly judged to be the worst car on the grid.  “The first impression is always good,” he said. “It was very good last year, and I was not in Q3 very often. For that I’m very, very cautious.”

With the new larger fuel tanks, the cars are apt to be carrying anywhere between 10kg and 160kg of fuel during testing.  The resulting weight differential can impact lap times by as much as four seconds.  Therefore, it’s difficult to decipher exactly how significant these lap times are.  It’s interesting to note, however, that three of the top four lap times today were posted by cars pwered by Ferrari engines.  Last year, the Mercedes engine was the class of the field.  Has Ferrari found a few extra horses in their powerplant, even though there’s ostensibly a freeze on engine development?

Certainly, results at the next test at Jerez should help clarify things.

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