After several months of not hearing and seeing racing cars it was fabulous to come to the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona today and get up close to the 2009 cars.
At the end of the day, all the drivers lined up for practice starts on the main straight and I could feel my heart thumping the inside of my rib cage, just as it was when the last engine was switched off in the pit lane in Brazil last November.
All the teams are here and, although the 2009 cars take some getting used to with their ungainly front wings and tiny little rear wings, they are starting to grow on me.
It’s an important week for all the teams. Some like BMW, Ferrari and Toyota, have already done the bulk of their days of testing and for them this represents a final dress rehearsal before Melbourne. The race team mechanics are here, they’ve got their fireproof suits on and they are practising pit stops and sharpening up for the new season. Others, like McLaren, Renault and Williams have another few days after this in Jerez to bring some new parts to the car and find a bit more performance.
As the teams are at different stages of their plans, so some are trying qualifying and low fuel simulations, whereas others are running heavier. I think the times are closer in reality than they appear on the chart below. It’s not yet clear exactly what the pecking order is, but from what I’m seeing here with my own eyes, BMW and Toyota start out as the teams nibbling at Ferrari’s heels. It’s very close between them all and perhaps it’s no coincidence that those are the three teams who were testing in Bahrain where, sandstorms apart, they did some useful work.
Toyota keep bringing new things to the car at every test and improving it. The team was trying a new front wing today and this looks like it could be the year of the breakthrough win for the team (see separate post). Meanwhile Renault seems to be catching up after a tricky start, which was no doubt due to the channeling of efforts into their 2008 car right to the end of the season, whereas BMW in particular threw their effort into 2009.
McLaren have some problems, that is very clear. It’s in the rear of the car, either the rear wing, or possibly the diffuser, which is causing the back of the car to be unstable and is causing quite high tyre wear. The fact that they keep changing the rear wing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the rear wing that is the problem. It could be the diffuser as problems there can sometimes be sorted by changing the rear wing. Either way, it looks like it’s not a simple problem, more like a series of things, which makes it harder to identify and to fix. They are going to have to work hard to get the car up to speed for the start of the season. Can you imagine if they were the third fastest Mercedes-powered team at the first race?
BARCELONA TEST DAY 1 – TIMES
1. HEIDFELD -BMW 1’20.338
2. RAIKKONEN – FERRARI 1’20.908
3. TRULLI -TOYOTA 1’20.937
4. BUTTON -BRAWN 1’21.140
5. PIQUET -RENAULT 1’21.662
6. BOURDAIS -TORO ROSSO 1’22.158
7. WEBBER -RED BULL 1’22.246
8. SUTIL -FORCE INDIA 1’22.452
9. NAKAJIMA -WILLIAMS 1’22.813
10. KOVALAINEN – MCLAREN 1’22.948