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Advantage McLaren in Spain 11 May 2007

McLaren hand guides Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren into the pit box.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2007 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2007 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2007 Christian Albers (NED) Spyker F8-VII.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2007 Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA) Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 11 May 2007

Who had a good day and who had a bad day in Barcelona?

Talk to anyone at McLaren on Friday evening, and the mood might best be described as guardedly upbeat after Fernando Alonso set the pace in this afternoon’s second practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The Spaniard achieved a good chassis balance early on, and confirmed that the car has definitely been improved since Bahrain, while Lewis Hamilton, though ‘only’ fifth, said he was content that all of the planned programme had been carried through.

“The team have worked really hard on improving the car and there is no doubt that this has paid off,” Ron Dennis offered, “but we will have to wait until Sunday to see how effective our developments have been.”

At Ferrari, meanwhile, the change in track conditions since the last week’s test here seemed to have made the difference to the superiority the red cars displayed then.

“Track conditions were very different to those we found last week,” Kimi Raikkonen confirmed, “and it is definitely more slippery. So we were struggling a bit to find the right balance. All our work centred on finding the best race set-up.”

Like Hamilton, Felipe Massa said he was happy with what he had achieved, but added: “Just how happy I will be, we will only know on Sunday after the race!”

Renault’s performance caught many people on the hop after the team’s previous three races. Executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, admitted that it owed much to low fuel loads, but added: “In spite of the fact that we tested at this circuit only last week, the track temperatures we have encountered today, and forecast for the rest of the weekend, are around 20°C higher than they were at the end of the test. Barcelona is well known as a sensitive circuit where small rises in temperature can have a big impact on a car’s behaviour.

“A change as big as 20°C means we have to run quite a different set-up to what we used last week and, as a result, we ran a completely normal Friday programme today. It is obvious that our final laps were done with a lower fuel load as part of our planned technical checks, and that our positions are therefore unrepresentatively high in the timesheets. However, our pace on the long runs seems to show that the status quo has not changed much since Bahrain.”

For a team whose crucial testing time was cut short here by incidents involving Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, Williams were well up the order thanks to the German’s performance. Despite playing catch up, they were able to work through several set-up permutations, and overall this was a promising performance by a team that desperately need to bag a decent result.

BMW Sauber had a new front wing for the first time, but the changed conditions provoked oversteer for Robert Kubica. Nick Heidfeld was a little happier, and is confident that the positions today were not reflective of the team’s overall competitiveness.

At Red Bull David Coulthard admitted that he had hoped for a more positive show after setting fastest time on one day of the test, but was happy enough with the team’s revised aero package and its new quick-shift transmission. Team mate Mark Webber, meanwhile, felt his RB3 was more stable in the afternoon as a result of all the data processed after the morning session.

Things were a little less positive at Toro Rosso, though Scott Speed split the Red Bull pilots after a low-fuel run. The STR02s still lack the quick-shift mechanism and are one specification behind the Red Bulls on aero packaging. While Speed felt his car was more competitive, with what amounted to the same package as Red Bull had had in Bahrain, Tonio Liuzzi struggled with set-up and niggling electrical problems, before losing more time at the end of the session with an hydraulic leak.

There is an air of resignation currently at Honda, where things won’t improve much before revisions are due on stream at the French Grand Prix. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello had trouble-free days and completed their scheduled running, but any improvement since Bahrain was only small.

Toyota, meanwhile, were quick in the morning and slow in the afternoon, the latter disrupted by mechanical problems. Since they had brought a major aerodynamic upgrade which included new front and rear wings, engine cover and floor, this was a significant blow. The problems centred on the rear suspension on both cars.

Super Aguri also lost pace after Anthony Davidson’s sixth-fastest time in the morning, but that was clearly a low-fuel run. Like everyone else they had to change their set-ups to suit the changed track conditions, and by the end both drivers felt they had good handling balance after a productive day.

Finally, Spyker had something to cheer after closing the gap to the Toyotas, Toro Rossos and Super Aguris. Some of this was down to the test last week, where they had plenty of running time, and both drivers were satisfied with the balance of their F8-VIIs. They, too, reported a productive day.