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Vettel Quickest on Day One at Valencia

Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull at Valencia today

The 2011 Formula 1 season got underway today – or rather the pre-season did – with the first day of testing at Valencia.  Two things may be said about the season’s first day of testing: (a) early test times count for little, and (b) Sebastian Vettel was the quickest.

Of course, most of the teams were essentially doing shakedown laps, and not necessarily reaching for quick times.  Also, several teams (HRT, Virgin, Force India and McLaren) were actually running last year’s cars with new components, which nullified any effort to make comparisons.

Several teams didn’t bother send out their regular drivers today.  The aforementioned teams running hybrid 2010 cars used their reserve pilots for their shakedowns.  Of the major teams, only Mercedes brought out their two marquee names.  Of course, since Nick Heidfeld departed the Merc camp last year, the Brackley squad has no reserve driver, so that might explain it.  Diplomatically, they allowed both drivers to take to the track today.  Certainly Schumacher, who has no love for simulators, will want to get all the bona fide test time that he can this year.

While it’s no surprise that Vettel topped the time sheets, seeing him immediately followed by Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Gary Paffett (McLaren) and Paul di Resta (Force India) was less expected.  Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was fifth quickest, and no doubt he’s keenly eyeing Vettel’s times, wondering if (and by how much) the Red Bull will be out of reach this year.

This will be Paul di Resta’s rookie year, and I’m sure it was lost on no one in the Force India camp that the team’s reserve driver, Nico Hulkenberg, was a half second quicker than di Resta.  Of course, the Hulk has his rookie season under his belt now, and has likely put many of this teething pains behind him.  Even so, the Force India brass might end up asking themselves if they backed the wrong horse for the win.

Many eyes were on Michael Schumacher today.  He made his comeback almost exactly a year ago during last year’s pre-season tests.  It was the beginning of a year-long struggle, and Schumi’s detractors have suggested that the German ace might be in for more of the same this year.  Schumacher, however, sees things differently.  As he told the press today, “At the start of last year I felt a bit rusty, but that is not the case in this car. I feel immediately at home and I know what to do. I know the functions of the car and I know how to drive it.”

Unofficial Times
01. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:13.769 93 laps
02. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:13.938 + 0.169s 71 laps
03. Gary Paffett McLaren-Mercedes 1:14.292 + 0.523s 91 laps
04. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:14.461 + 0.692s 28 laps
05. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.553 + 0.784s 97 laps
06. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:15.621 + 1.852s 68 laps
07. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:16.003 + 2.234s 71 laps
08. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:16.351 + 2.582s 28 laps
09. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:16.450 + 2.681s 15 laps
10. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:17.214 + 3.445s 19 laps
11. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:17.335 + 3.566s 77 laps
12. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:18.020 + 4.251s 45 laps
13. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:19.930 + 6.161s 9 laps

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