Schumacher impresses as Massa tops opening test

Felipe Massa marked his official return to Formula One racing by setting the fastest time during the opening day of pre-season testing at Valencia.

Today’s session was the Brazilian’s first sample of a modern F1 car since his horrific accident during qualifying for last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. However the 28-year-old appeared undaunted by task and was quickly on the pace after completing 102 laps.

Massa gave the F10 its dream debut with a time of 1:12.574.

“I think it was a very positive day.” Massa is quoted as saying by Autosport, “The car behaved very well. We managed to start and finish our programme like expected, even did a few more laps than expected. So I think it all went very well on the first day.

“The car behaved in a good direction in terms of… I felt it was an easier car to drive compared to last year’s. Last year it was always difficult to find the balance. This year it was just one day but at least it was quite positive and quite easier to find the set-up and the balance.

“Also in the tyres I didn’t feel any problems. I think everything went in a very good direction for the first day but it’s not enough. There’s still a lot to improve until the first race, which is the most important thing.”

“I’m happy for the first day. It was not like last year, when we already knew there were problems with the car. So this time we could finish our programme in a very easy way, so I’m quite happy.

“It’s always good to have a good first impression of the car, but I still know there’s a long way to go. So we need to work every day. We know how F1 changes to quickly that if you don’t improve the car every day it’s difficult.”

Even though Massa ended the session on top, it was his former Ferrari team-mate who stole the show. Michael Schumacher marked his return to Formula One this afternoon with the third fastest time, around six tenths faster than his team-mate Nico Rosberg, who ran in the morning session.

Afterwards the seven-times champion said that he was delighted with his return to action, claiming that the feelings he experienced in today’s session resembled those felt when he first made his F1 debut in 1991.

“In a way it is like 1991, honestly,” he said. “When I came into F1 I was shocked on the first lap and extremely excited on the second lap and further laps. And it is exactly the same today.

“I feel like a young boy that has a toy in his hands and enjoys himself.”

“I think we have done a very good job. The guys did a superb job out there, being out there making a few control checks and making the car reliable. We did more than 80 laps, and for the first day that is a superb job.”

Fellow F1-returnee, Pedro de la Rosa, produced the surprise of the day after setting the second fastest time in the new Sauber. Despite its lack of sponsorship, the Hinwil-based car appear to have produced the goods in time for the 2010 season.

Formula One veteran, Rubens Barrichello, made his debut for the Williams team. However the Brazilian was responsible for the session”s only red flag after the FW32 stopped out of track.

Gary Paffett was on hand to shakedown the new McLaren Mp4-25, while Sebastien Buemi took to the circuit for the first time following the unveiling of the new STR5 earlier in the morning.

Robert Kubica was last of eight runners in the new Renault R30, some 2.5 seconds adrift of Massa’s Ferrari. Despite this uninspiring display the Pole remains confident.

“I don’t care about the times, the priority for today was different,” he said afterwards. “Testing is not to be on top of the list.

“Last year the maximum fuel load was 60-70kg, so if someone was lighter the difference was about 30kg. This year you can find some cars running 30kg and some 150kg, which makes the gaps much bigger.

“It’s important to be where we should be when it counts, in Bahrain.”

The new fuel regulations and the restrictions on testing make it difficult to judge who is on the pace, as some teams will surely have opted to mask their true potential. However today’s session has allowed the likes of Massa and  Schumacher to fire warning shots to their respective team-mates for 2010.

Test recommences tomorrow with Lewis Hamilton’s return to action for McLaren among the potential highlights.

Provisional times from Day One:

Pos. Driver        Team               Time     Laps Completed

01.  F Massa       Ferrari            1:12.574 102 laps
02.  P de la Rosa  BMW Sauber         1:12.784 74 laps
03.  M Schumacher  Mercedes GP        1:12.947 40 laps
04.  N Rosberg     Mercedes GP        1:13.543 39 laps
05.  G Paffett     McLaren-Mercedes   1:13.846 86 laps
06.  R Barrichello Williams-Cosworth  1:14.449 75 laps
07.  S Buemi       Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:14.762 18 laps
08.  R Kubica      Renault            1:15.000 69 laps