Friday analysis - new surface makes for smooth running at Interlagos 19 Oct 2007
Wet weather in the morning, and a situation in the afternoon in which conditions were continuously improving made for an intriguing first day of practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The drivers were universally happy with the resurfacing work, and the feeling is that the track is now much better to drive on as so many of its infamous bumps have been eradicated.
Down at McLaren it was a good day in all but one respect. Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of 1m 12.767s on Bridgestones softer tyre, and said that they had made good progress on set-up and tyre choice. But for a while the unfortunate Englishman found yet another Sword of Damocles poised above him thanks to the teams mistake in sending him out after his initial installation lap this morning on a different set of the same wet tyres, in contravention of Article 25.3 of the sporting regulations.
The stewards eventually decided to penalise team rather than driver, handing McLaren - along with the similarly offending Honda and Super Aguri squads - a 15,000 euro fine, and forcing them to surrender the second set of tyres.
In the second McLaren Fernando Alonso was second fastest on 1m 12.889s, and said he was quite happy thus far.
That was pretty much the sentiment at Ferrari, too. Felipe Massas 1m 13.075s left him third as the slipperiness of the track made it difficult to evaluate the tyres, while Kimi Raikkonens 1m 13.112s was good enough for fourth. He met traffic at the end, in the form of Alonso, but was reasonably happy with the way things went.
Giancarlo Fisichellas late 1m 13.549s left him fifth for Renault and he said he felt in good shape. Team mate Heikki Kovalainen recorded 1m 13.879s for 12th and reported that while the balance was okay, he needed a little more pace. But the times in the midfield were very close, with a second covering the runners from Massa in third to Hondas Jenson Button in 14th.
At BMW Sauber neither Robert Kubica nor Nick Heidfeld bothered running in the morning as the team do not envisage further rain. They were right on the pace for much of the afternoon, but on his way to an eventual sixth fastest time of 1m 13.587s Kubica reported lots of graining on the softer tyre. Nick Heidfeld was 10th on 1m 13.785s, and had no problems.
Williams had a strong day, with Nico Rosberg seventh on 1m 13.655s and Kazuki Nakajima making a good impression on 1m 13.664s for eighth. The former did enough to confirm that tyre choice will be difficult, and worked out a good direction on set-up for Saturday, while the latter was delighted to be so close to his team leader first time out as a competition F1 driver as opposed to the Friday tester.
David Coulthard was happy with 1m 13.706s and ninth for Red Bull, and Mark Webber had no complaints as he worked through tyre selection, even though his 1m 14.543s left him only 20th.
At Toyota Ralf Schumacher pushed hard all through in what is now openly acknowledged to be his last race for Toyota, and was quite happy with what he achieved on what he described as an exciting day as he set the 11th fastest time of 1m 13.829s. Jarno Trulli, by contrast, had a difficult time as he struggled to make his TF107 work its tyres properly, and was only 16th on 1m 14.179s.
The Hondas looked good early on in the wet this morning, but in the drier session they slipped down to 13th for Rubens Barrichello on 1m 13.892s and 14th for Jenson Button in 1m 14.095s. The Brazilian, who many have been predicting will announce his retirement this weekend, felt he could have gone faster had he not caught some traffic towards the end, while the Briton struggled for grip as his tyres grained. Like Hamilton, he was subject to a stewards investigation for running two sets of the same tyre, and must also give a set back on Saturday.
Tonio Liuzzi was Toro Rossos leading driver on 1m 14.152s in 15th despite a tired engine that will be replaced for Saturday, and struggled initially to get a decent balance on his STR2 as the conditions kept changing. Sebastian Vettel, 17th on 1m 14.409s, had no complaints.
At Super Aguri Takuma Sato must also hand back a set of tyres; he was 18th on 1m 14.431s, just ahead of team mate Anthony Davidson on 1m 14.477s.
As usual Adrian Sutil was the faster Spyker runner in 21st place on 1m 15.095s, and said that the softer tyre grained within two or three laps. Sakon Yamamoto, 22nd on 1m 15.715s, struggled with offs in both sessions.
With better weather forecast for Saturday, and a smoother track surface, times are expected to improve on Massas 2006 pole time of 1m 10.680s.