F1 2011 day one: what we learned

The new year in F1 terms kicked off today with the first day of testing at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Eastern Spain.

Sebastian Vettel was fastest on a day where the times set would be largely immaterial but the return to action welcome.

After 93 laps of the track, the reigning world champion was nearly two tenths quicker than his nearest rival Nico Hulkenberg, who was driving last year’s Force India after his move from Williams.

“I think generally it is better to be on top of the rankings rather than being on the other end,” Vettel said.

“It was the first day and it was most important to do laps, which we did – we did around 93 laps and that is quite an achievement and looking back it is something that we never got quite as good on the first day over the last two or three years, so that is a very good sign.

“On top of it I feel quite comfortable in the car, I enjoyed myself today and I think it was a good start.”

The third and fourth fastest times were also clocked by 2010-spec machinery, with Brits Gary Paffett in the McLaren and Paul di Resta taking those slots.

Fernando Alonso, who spent most time on the track and lapped 97 times, was fifth quickest, but in his shiny new Ferrari F150. Kamui Kobayashi popped up in sixth as the day drew to a close. Elsewhere, Michael Schumacher could only manage ninth, and there was also little joy for his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, who was the slowest of the thirteen runners.

The day was remarkable for the new cars on show, although in addition to McLaren and Force India, Virgin and HRT also used their 2010 cars. The new Renault, driven today by Vitaly Petrov to the eighth quickest time, is gloriously reminiscent of the JPS Lotuses of the Seventies and Eighties, and is beautifully shaped to boot. It reportedly has a number of daring features, which technical director James Allison has described as ‘brave’. Specifically, the car’s exhausts’ channelling of gases is thought to be under discussion, in the 2011 season which of course sees double diffusers and F-ducts banned.

One of the other two drastic changes are the movable rear wings, which have worried a number of commentators in the sport, fearful of high-speed losses of downforce. Nico Rosberg did not seem particularly happy today.

“You push the button and it lowers at the back, so you feel the car gets lighter, and then you release the button again before braking,” he told the BBC. “But you think ‘Jeez, what if it hasn’t gone back to its original position,’ because if it doesn’t you are off in a big way. It’s going to take some adjusting. Because it moves we don’t know how quick it resets itself once you release the button again. It could be too late and it’s not properly attached, so it’s still a bit of a concern.”

The second major theme was the adoption of the Pirelli tyres, which are to replace Bridgestone rubber for this season. Mercifully for the Italian company, the tyres seem to have avoided very bad press, which is good for them. Mirth was caused, however, by a reported sighting of Bridgestone tyres in a McLaren truck.

In sum, however, little can be read into today’s action. It is said every year around this time, but perhaps even more so in 2011: there are just too many variables in play for anyone to have any kind of idea of relative pace.

Times:

Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault* 1m13.769s 93
2. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m13.938s + 0.169s 71
3. Gary Paffett McLaren-Mercedes 1m14.292s + 0.523s 91
4. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m14.461s + 0.692s 28
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari* 1m14.553s + 0.784s 97
6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari* 1m15.621s + 1.852s 68
7. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m16.003s + 2.234s 71
8. Vitaly Petrov Renault* 1m16.351s + 2.582s 28
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes* 1m16.450s + 2.681s 15
10. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari* 1m17.214s + 3.445s 19
11. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth* 1m17.335s + 3.566s 77
12. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m18.020s + 4.251s 45
13. Nico Rosberg Mercedes* 1m19.930s + 6.161s 9

All timing unofficial
* 2011 car