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Barcelona day one - Vettel steals Alonso’s thunder 18 Feb 2011

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain, Friday 18 February 2011. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F150th.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP and Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director on a scooter.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India VJM04.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Williams FW33.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain,  Friday, 18 February 2011

A late run from reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel was enough to prevent local hero Fernando Alonso topping the times in Friday’s opening day of testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. Vettel lapped his Red Bull just under a second quicker than Alonso’s Ferrari.

With the day starting on a damp track and drying by mid morning, there was a wide spread of times amongst the 13 drivers present. Third fastest was Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari, who edged out Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi by less than a hundredth of a second.

Red Bull took the chance to test the intermediate Pirelli tyres, before conditions began to dry, though Vettel had a couple of minor offs in the morning session, prompting the team to complete some precautionary checks over lunch.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t complete many laps today, as we had a long break - longer than expected,” said Vettel. “It wasn’t anything big, nothing broke, but at the test if you think there might be a problem then you’d rather take the car apart and check. The boys did their best and we still got some runs towards the end of the day - not as much as we’d like, but the car feels good and hopefully we’ll do more tomorrow.”

Ferrari were running the F150th Italia in the same configuration seen at its first test. Again, the main subjects on the team’s agenda were increasing understanding of the Pirelli tyres and working on overall reliability of the car, which experienced no technical problems.

At Toro Rosso, Alguersuari made good use of the early damp conditions, immediately putting in a 20-lap run on Pirelli’s intermediate tyre. The Italian team’s afternoon work with the new STR6 included a brake system evaluation.

A powertrain problem meant Sauber lost some track time, but technical director James Key still deemed the day useful, especially in terms of tyres: “It was a wet start this morning, so we decided to do a wet tyre programme. Pirelli brought the wet race spec tyre here and, as we had already tried the intermediate race spec, we decided to use the opportunity to get to know the wet tyres. This was useful because the track started to dry up by mid-morning, and we were able to learn how both, the wet and the intermediate tyres behave on a drying track, which is always useful.”

Jenson Button was fifth for McLaren in the new MP4-26, test team manager Indy Lall commenting: “We’d planned to begin the test by conducting a number of aero-mapping runs, but these were slightly disrupted because the track was still damp from last night’s rain. As a result, we’ll repeat that test tomorrow morning - weather permitting.

“Still, we didn’t lose too much track-time, and quickly switched our focus to a series of shorter runs towards the end of the morning. These were used to evaluate set-up and establish a general direction for the afternoon’s long-run programme, which gave us a very solid understanding of the behaviour of the Pirelli tyres over the course of a stint. We also satisfactorily ran our drag reduction system for the first time in anger, and continued work with the F1 hybrid. It’s been a very solid day and we’re pleased with our progress.”

Paul di Resta was an encouraging sixth fastest, despite only completing 26 laps for Force India due to a delay on new parts arriving. The team’s programme focussed on putting more miles on the VJM04 to gather performance and balance data, plus conducting aero and tyre testing in the latter stage of the day.

A precautionary engine change cut Williams’ programme short, leaving Rubens Barrichello seventh in the times after 52 laps.

“We didn't have enough set-up time today,” explained technical director Sam Michael. “The track was moist to start and didn't start ramping up until late morning, at which point we encountered an issue with the engine. Over the break, we changed the engine and did just one proper run at the end of the session. All of our running was carried out on the medium compound tyre. Despite the downtime, we actually tested and measured quite a few aero and systems items in the background.”

Michael Schumacher was eighth fastest in Mercedes’ MGP W02. The German first headed out midway through the morning to complete aerodynamic evaluations and balance checks. Following the lunch break, he completed a successful race simulation including pit stops.

“We had a good day and it is certainly satisfying to finish a race distance with all of the systems operational and to have everything working fine,” said Schumacher, who hands over to Nico Rosberg on Saturday. “Now we have to turn our focus to performance and it was important to complete today’s simulation to understand how the car and tyres behave going from a heavy to lighter fuel load.”

Narain Karthikeyan completed a mammoth 116 laps en route to ninth place for HRT, using the team’s 2010 car. Former Force India racer Vitantonio Liuzzi will test for the Spanish squad on Saturday, the Italian being a strong contender for their second 2011 race seat.

Lotus were happy with their progress, despite having to stop slightly early due to a gearbox lubrication issue on the T128. Heikki Kovalainen completed the top ten on the timesheets after 54 laps.

“It was good to start the day with some runs on the intermediates in proper damp conditions,” said the Finn. “There wasn't a lot of standing water on the track but it was pretty damp all round - we needed to try out the inters in these conditions so we've now amassed some very useful data on those.

“After that we wanted to do a race distance but the gearbox problem meant we couldn't complete that part of the plan. Despite this I'm still finding that the car has good balance and is basically a decent package - we'll sort out the problems and tomorrow we'll try the race distance again and see where we are after that."

Virgin rookie Jerome d’Ambrosio completed a full race distance in the MVR-02, including pit stops, during which the new car ran flawlessly. Only red flags elsewhere on the circuit hampered the team’s excellent progress, which saw the Belgian finish 11th.

KERS problems blighted Renault’s day. Although the issue was eventually solved, it prevented much meaningful running for Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld, who instead carried out pit-stop practice, allowing the team to perfect a new traffic-light system which they plan to use at the first race.

Testing will continue in Barcelona on Saturday.

Unofficial Friday test times from Barcelona:
1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:24.374, 37 laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:25.485, 101
3. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso, 1:25.638, 57
4. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, 1:25.641, 78
5. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:26.365, 77
6. Paul di Resta, Force India, 1:26.575, 26
7. Rubens Barrichello, Williams, 1:26.912, 52
8. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP, 1:27.512, 90
9. Narain Karthikeyan, HRT, 1:28.393, 116
10. Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus, 1:30.065, 54
11. Jerome d’Ambrosio, Virgin, 1:30.950, 116
12. Vitaly Petrov, Renault, 1:35.174, 20
13. Nick Heidfeld, Renault, 1:44.324, 27

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