Nine-time MotoGP champ Valentino Rossi has once again proven that his gift for speed on two wheels is a transferrable skill. He wrapped up a second day of testing Ferrari Formula 1 car at the Circuit de Catalunya, in Spain, today, setting a best time of 1:21.9. This time was just 0.23 seconds off the track record set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2008 in the same model car, a Ferrari F2008.
Today’s test began under damp and foggy conditions, but when the weather cleared laater in the day, wet-weather tires were replaced with slicks, and Rossi’s lap times consistently improved. As reported in The New York Times, Rossi said of today’s test, “We kept the last three quarters of an hour to try a ‘time attack’ with little petrol and fresh tires. I would have given anything for such a lap time.”
Luca Baldisserri, Ferrari’s sporting director, echoed Rossi’s satisfaction, saying, “We tried different set ups and he improved a lot. This means that the driver learns quickly and has room for improvement.”
While Rossi’s best lap times were certainly impressive, they’re not directly comparable to Raikkonen’s. Although the two drivers used the same model car, the F2008, Rossi set his quickest times on GP2 slicks (F1 slicks are banned prior to the official testing window, in February), while Raikkonen set the lap record on groved tires, which were mandated by FIA regulations for the 1998 – 2008 seasons. Grooved tires produce somewhere between 40% and 60% less mechanical grip than slicks, which would probably be worth at least a few seconds in lap times.
This was Rossi’s sixth test for Ferrari, and it was billed by the team as a reward for Rossi’s having clinched his ninth MotoGP title last year. Perhaps so, but it’s no secret that Ferrari and Rossi have been engaged in an intermittent flirtation that has lasted several years.
At one time, paddock gossips suggested that Rossi might join Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, to replace a departing Rubens Barrichello, but Barrichello’s place was taken by fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa, who’d been waiting in the wings at Sauber. Sauber purchased their engine supply from Ferrari, and they were sometimes rather caustically referred to as Ferrari’s B-team. Also, Massa’s manager was Nicholas Todt, son of Jean Todt, who was team principal of Ferrari at the time (and is now the president of the FIA). So, all things considered, it’s likely that Massa had the inside track on the second seat at Ferrari from the moment Barrichello decided to waste the next three years of his career in a dismally performing Honda.
That said, Ferrari seems eager to include Rossi in its extended family, and Ferrari/Fiat CEO Luca di Montezemolo has made no secret of the fact that he’d love to run a third car in Formula 1, if the rules could be changed to allow it. He’d previously indicated that a third car would be reserved for Michael Schumacher, but as the German ace has decided to finish out his active driving career with Mercedes, it seems probable that Rossi would be, from di Montezemolo’s standpoint at any rate, the next best thing.
(Image source: ferrariworld)