The year of the 2010 championship starts with a lot of excitement as the Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher is willing to make his racing comeback on track with the Mercedes GP Petronas Team this year. He will team up with his compatriot Nico Rosberg, who was already signed. Michael’s reappearance with the Silver Arrows sees his return to Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Family where he began his racing carrer as part of the junior program back in 1990, driving in Group C sports cars and DTM. Also, thanks to this new contract, Michael will work again with Ross Brawn with whom he won all seven of his World Championships, closing the circle of his career. Mercedes Grand Prix, indeed, is essentially the same as Brawn GP, the one year highly successful team. The team will launch its contender on Monday 25th of January.
Michael doesn’t hide his enthusiasm:
"I have decided to return to Formula 1. Mercedes GP and I agreed on teaming up for the coming 3 seasons. And to be honest, I'm already super excited by the prospect to be back in a Formula 1 cockpit. Mercedes GP Petronas represents a new challenge for me both in a sporting and a personal context. It is a new chapter in my racing career, and I am really looking forward to working with my old friend Ross Brawn and my companions from my days with the Mercedes Junior Program. I am convinced that together we will be involved in the fight for the Formula 1 World Championship next year and I am already looking forward to getting back onto the racetrack. For me, this partnership closes the circle. Mercedes supported me for so many years when I began my Formula 1 career and now, I can hopefully give something back to the brand with the star. To put it simply: I'm totally fired up for next year".
As a preparation for this new challenge, he will test a GP2 car in Jerez, which also confirms the will of Schumacher to help the development of the 2011-2013 GP2 Series car. Even Ross Brawn his more than delighted to work again with Michael and to have a perfect team pair:
"As seven-time World Champion, Michael’s outstanding record in Formula 1 speaks for itself and I am looking forward to working with him again. With the completion of our driver line-up, I believe that we now have the most exciting partnership in Formula 1 with Michael and Nico, who provide the perfect mix of talent, experience, speed and youth. We can now turn our full attention to the preparations for the new season and everyone at Mercedes GP Petronas is extremely excited about the challenge ahead".
Also 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton is more than thrilled to finally race against the legend himself, as he missed the opportunity by joining the league one year after Schumacher’s retirement, in 2007. He comments on Michael’s return:
"It's brilliant news. It's great to have Michael back in Formula 1. I used to watch him race when I was in the junior categories and I always hoped that I would be in Formula 1 while he was still around. I'm really looking forward to seeing him on the track and back at the top. He is a legend and a really nice guy, and I am happy for him that he has once again got an opportunity to do the best job in the world - to race in Formula 1. I wish him my absolute best wishes on his comeback with such a fine team and company as Mercedes-Benz".
The former Ferrari champion is ready to return and is completely at ease in the Mercedes GP driver's suit. No nostalgia for Maranello for Schumacher, who at the age of 41 is getting ready to take the wheel again after three seasons of stop. While waiting to get back on track, Schumacher visited the British factories of his new team.
"I spent two days at the Brackley factory to get to know the engineers and facilities a little better. I am very surprised in a positive way, everyone was very motivated. This is a world champion team but they don't seem at all satiated with success".
Brackley is home to the headquarters of the former Brawn GP, the team that won both world titles in 2009 and was taken over by Mercedes. Schumacher has been familiarising himself with the staff who will assist him in the coming season.
"For me it is important to be informed about everything. It was very interesting to start to understand the engineers and the way they work. I had already had a look when I signed the contract and had already learned a lot, this time I could see a lot more about the team".
Brackley wasn't the only visit.
"I've also been to the Mercedes factory in Brixworth and I have to say that I was very impressed by the level there. The staff seem very engaged, I find that absolutely encouraging. Everything fits with the way I see things. The team is still hungry".
With the Italian language he never had a great relationship and now in Germany Michael Schumacher finally feels at home.
"I was pleased to hear that a lot of people speak German. It's nice for once, I'm not used to it at work. I find it useful".
The Mercedes GP will line up at the start as a kind of German national team. Schumacher will have compatriot Nico Rosberg as his teammate. And from Germany a third driver could also arrive: there is talk of Nick Heidfeld. On 12 January 2010, the 41-year-old German driver, who will return to racing next season at the wheel of a Mercedes, held a private test (ordinary tests are scheduled for February) at the Jerez circuit at the wheel of a Dallara Renault Formula GP2 car.
The last time Schumacher (now wearing a white suit with no sponsors and a red helmet with the Mercedes emblem in the middle) was on four wheels was last summer when he tested a 2007 Ferrari to prepare for the replacement of Felipe Massa, after the Brazilian's accident during the Hungarian Grand Prix. The seven-time World Champion had then given up his return to Formula 1 due to neck problems. Schumacher, accompanied in Spain by two engineers from the German manufacturer, started lapping at 9:07, completing five laps before returning to the pits. The rain, although not intense, forced the German to continue working with wet tyres. After completing a total of 51 laps, Schumacher stopped the test.
"It was a kind of warm-up".
Says Norbert Haug, number 1 of Mercedes Motorsport. Schumacher will have until Thursday to test his fitness behind the wheel of a single-seater. The tests, in particular, will be used to confirm the complete integrity of his neck.
"My senses have come alive. The day was positive because after a long time I was able to drive a single-seater close to Formula 1 standards. It was worth it even if the weather was not what we all wanted. The track was too wet to use slick tyres. I tried to fit them on two occasions but had to come straight back to the pits. Turning here is still very useful".
The entire Ferrari squad wishes Michael Schumacher a good season now that he has left Scuderia Ferrari for the Mercedes GP team, without denying that the Red team is willing to give their best to beat him on track. In fact, in the past three years, Michael was working as an advisor in Maranello. Nevertheless, the team is more than excited for Alonso’s debut in red, having Felipe Massa as teammate. Indeed, in Maranello, the team is totally focused on getting the car ready for the new championship, which will be launched on the 28th of January. The car, named the 281, is due to make its testing debut on the 1st of February in Valencia, at the Ricardo Tormo circuit, during the first pre-season test.
In the meantime, the new year has finally begun at Ferrari and the classic meeting on the snows of Madonna di Campiglio is an opportunity to talk to Stefano Domenicali about the many issues of the upcoming season, starting with the new red couple Alonso-Massa, passing obviously through the return to Formula 1 of Michael Schumacher, today an opponent but always in the hearts of Ferrari fans. Stefano Domenicali admits:
"Today Michael is an adversary, but we have two very strong drivers and we want to return to the top. I was sorry about Schumacher's decision from a personal point of view, we spent so many years side by side and you cannot forget history. But today he is our competitor and we will have to beat him on the track: it will be an extra incentive, if we need it. We'll get more motivation from this, we have to turn the page and look ahead".
To win, Ferrari is betting everything on Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa:
"They are great drivers, and very motivated for different reasons. For us, the team is more important than anything else, and the drivers who have the honour and pride of working for us know that whoever is faster is ahead, and at a certain point in the season choices will be made, as has happened in previous years. Hot pair? We will try to bring out their typical Latin qualities, it will be up to me first and then to those who will work with them".
Stefano Domenicali believes that Ferrari can return to being considered a top team this year:
"We expect to return to the top level, we want to do well, to be competitive again. We will present the car on 28 January and I think that already from the tests planned for February in Spain we will have a clearer picture of the performance. We have to work to win, which is almost a diktat at Ferrari. It will be tough, but it's part of the sporting challenges we face. We'll be up against Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren".
January 14th 2010 is Fernando Alonso's day at Ferrari. First official outing in red for the Spaniard called to retrace the exploits of Michael Schumacher. After a season to forget the house of Maranello wants to return to the top and relive the triumphal emotions to which the German had well accustomed.
"Winning seven championships I think is difficult if not impossible in today's Formula 1. Of course I will try to win as many as possible in the coming years. This is 100% my last team. I arrive much more prepared than when I arrived in Renault, I am ready for this great challenge, Ferrari is known all over the world and we must win".
The expectations on him and his arrival in Maranello are many, but Alonso does not let himself be overwhelmed by emotion and is eager to get on track.
"I am happy, because since I was a child I dreamed of driving for Ferrari and now the dream has come true. It's the maximum I could aspire to and it will be impossible to race in another team. I will end my career here and I want to leave my mark. Here you can breathe in the legend of the Prancing Horse, but above all a family feeling that you can't find in other teams. In the pit box we will finally speak Italian".
In the meantime, the season is just around the corner, although due to a cost-cutting decision in the regulations, testing with the official cars will be much more limited than before.
"This is absurd and has no parallel in other sports. Imagine if a footballer prepares only seven days before the World Cup or a tennis player before Roland Garros? I'll have to adapt quickly to the car in February's tests, but I don't think I'll be able to give one hundred per cent straight away. I think that from the third or fourth Grand Prix you will see the best of Alonso. The championship is long and during the season we will have to develop the engine, as Ferrari has always done".
Among the unknowns is the new regulation that prohibits refuelling during the race.
"It will be more important to test on Saturday, but above all to look at consumption. We are working very well with Shell in this respect.
It will be a tough World Championship regardless of the new regulations. From Hamilton to Button, from Schumacher to Massa himself".
There are so many opponents for Alonso.
"Hamilton? Both of us are happy in our teams, better that way, there will be great competition. Button has been looking for a new challenge at McLaren, maybe he wasn't happy at Brawn, but watch out for Red Bull. If Michael is back he will have his motivation and he feels ready. His goal is to win his eighth title. I'm happy for him, for the fans and for the championship".
"Felipe knows the team and we spoke a lot. The episode of our disagreement is long over. We're a strong, Latin couple. Me number one of the team? I've never asked for that, but I don't want to be considered number two either, as I was at McLaren in 2007".
Finally, a few words of affection for the man who launched him into the world of great racing, Flavio Briatore:
"I am happy for his rehabilitation, he has been an important person for me".
Michael Schumacher returns to Formula 1 with Mercedes not to make up the numbers, but with the declared objective of winning the world title, may not be at the end of the first season, but certainly within the three years envisaged in the contract with the German team.
"In our long-term project with Mercedes we have set a clear objective: I want to become world champion again. It may not happen at the end of the first season, but if we look at the three-year period, there is a good chance of doing so".
Schumacher assures that before Ferrari's request (last summer, to take the place of the injured Massa), he had never thought of returning to Formula 1, just as he had no contact in the autumn with Ross Brawn, his chief engineer at Benetton and at Ferrari. As for the pain in his neck, a consequence of a fall on a motorbike, which had prevented him from replacing Massa, Schumacher reassured everyone:
"In the past I have never been able to develop the muscles in this part of my body in such a way that I don't feel any resentment. Having a bit of stiffness is completely normal".
The years have gone by (the German rider turned 41 on 3 January 2010), but age doesn't weigh on him:
"I train less than I would have done in the past, but more efficiently and with more focused objectives".
Meanwhile, the speculations about who is going to be the next world champion begins with Ecclestone predicting that Vettel will win the 2010 championship:
"Schumacher can of course win the title, but the younger drivers will absolutely want to beat him. There are five or six drivers that can race for the championship title, but I predict that Sebastian Vettel will be the next World Champion in Formula 1".
Niki Lauda as well thinks Vettel has more chance to win, considering also the fact that as we could see at the end of last year, Red Bull had the best car on the grid. Having one of the most talented young drivers and the best car will surely put them in a favorited position. Even Kimi Raikkonen tips Vettel as 2010 Champion, but apparently for a different reason:
"Hard to say [who will win]. I don't know what Ferrari's plans are. Mercedes will probably have a good car, so will McLaren. Red Bull Racing probably will too, so I'm going to have to award the title based on who I like: Sebastian Vettel - he's so down to earth".
Felipe Massa is also a contender for the title. The Brazilian has no scars on his face. He doesn't have the signs of the crash in his head either.
"I know it was scary, but I don't remember anything, the images of the impact are all erased and that's a big advantage. It didn't change my life, it won't affect my career. I'm ready to start again, stronger than before. I have never thought about quitting. And on a physical level, I swear I'm in better shape now than in Budapest".
Massa speaks in one breath. He gets excited when he remembers that accident in Hungary that could have had terrible consequences. He labours to ensure that everything is buried, fear and recovery, that the future is now, a 2010 from which he expects a lot.
"I'm living a special moment, I'm a new father, I've learned to change nappies, I look at my son and I get excited, a happy man. And then I'm about to become a driver again, in fact I've already started racing again and I went very fast. Don't say that as a father you become slower. Schumacher, with two children at home, won several world titles, and a few days after giving birth to Raffaela, my wife, I found myself fighting with 60 karts in Brazil and I won hands down. When you're driving, you forget everything. It's only when you get back to the pits that you put your brain back together and remember that you have a family".
No conditioning. Also because this can't be just any season.
"I should have won the 2008 World Championship, I had the perfect race in Brazil, I deserved it, I'll try again this year. I'm a fighter, I get stronger in difficult situations. I took the mockery of two years ago in Sao Paulo well, nothing can break me. When I started driving, I didn't have any money. I was obliged to win, because without a prize I could not have entered the next race. But in the end I managed to achieve my goals and it will be the same with the World Championship".
He needs strength, physical and mental, because this year a demon like Alonso has arrived at Ferrari. Rarely in the history of Formula 1 (remember Bruce McLaren) has there been a driver who has had as many as four World Champions as teammates. Massa has had it all, first Villeneuve, Schumacher, Raikkonen, now Alonso.
"Heidfeld and Fisichella weren't joking either, but it's better that way. You can learn from a teammate, and I'm referring especially to Schumacher. You observe him, you watch how he drives, how he brakes, you absorb everything and you become stronger".
Now, however, his friend Schumacher has become a Mercedes driver.
"He had said enough at the right time, I don't know if I would have made his choice. He will need time to get back to his old self. The friendship outside remains, but on the track no discounts. I foresee a fascinating World Championship, with the unknown of the gas at the beginning. Many drivers fighting for the title, Hamilton, Button, Vettel, as well as myself, Schumacher and Alonso".
In 2007, he almost came to blows with him at the end of the Nurburgring.
"He accused me, we argued, then he apologised. It was all over then. I talked more with him in three days than I have with Raikkonen in four years".
Ferrari could have kept the Finn, they chose him.
"I'm their Hamilton, their home-grown driver. After the accident I was never afraid, they always told me the job was mine. I know how to repay that trust".
With that lost title in 2008?
"Stolen. After what happened in Singapore it shouldn't have been awarded. I suspected from the start. I accused Piquet and he laughed. I told him, laugh, laugh, one day I will laugh. The same thing with Briatore. I confronted him in Bahrain, he said my suspicions were absurd. Talking about it now doesn't make sense, but it was a falsified World Championship. I'll never forget such a theft".
"It's not that easy. It took Michael Schumacher five years to win with Ferrari".
Fernando Alondo's arrival at Maranello has sparked enthusiasm but he has no illusions. And he says he is sure that his first season at the wheel of Ferrari will not be a triumphant stroll. Alonso is rightly aiming for the title, but he knows that to conquer the throne of the circus he will have to fight from the first to the last race.
"Formula 1 is not mathematical, as it is in football and other sports. A great team can lose at the home of a small one. In Formula 1 it's more or less the same, theory is not everything. Things have to work on the track too".
There are less than two months to go before the start of the World Championship, which will begin on 14 March 2010 with the Bahrain Grand Prix, and Alonso does not go into predictions and forecasts.
"It's difficult to make rankings. The two Mercedes drivers, the two McLaren drivers, maybe the two Red Bull drivers and also my partner Massa are, in theory, the big favourites. But there could be surprises, as it happened last year with Brawn and Toyota, which also started the championship very well".
After so many words, the first indications will come with the tests scheduled in a few weeks.
"Although we'll see how things go during the February tests, there are currently four favourite teams. It's good that Ferrari is among them".
Even for the Spaniard, the fight with Felipe Massa after the Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in 2007 is now forgotten.
"Only the few who are always looking for reasons to clash remember it".
Coexistence with the Brazilian will therefore not be a problem.
"For sure at the beginning of the year the McLaren drivers will be close and discussions will take place. The same will happen if it happens to me and Felipe or Michael (Schumacher, ed) and Rosberg. A great team generates these expectations, as it attracts the attention of all the media. No problem, we are both ready to help Ferrari".
Michael Schumacher will be the 2010 Formula 1 world champion. Ross Brawn, today team principal of Mercedes and yesterday one of the main architects of the seven-time World Champion's successes at Ferrari, is sure of it. Schumacher, who retired in 2006 after winning two titles with Benetton and five with Ferrari, will be up against former world champions Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and reigning champion Jenson Button.
"If I had to bet on any of them then it is clear that Michael will become World Champion. Michael is more relaxed today. When he retired in 2006 it was a burden for him. Now I can feel his old enthusiasm. I don't think he will win the first Grand Prix right away. He will need a couple of races to familiarise himself with the other cars and the new drivers. So I hope to see the old Schumacher. That's always been his strength anyway: learning and adapting in a surprisingly fast world".
At the beginning of January, former Renault F1 team principal Flavio Briatore will receive the verdict from the French Court. After the 2009 Singapore Gran Prix, Briatore received from FIA a lifetime ban from Motorsport for what it has been referred to as the Singapore Crashgate-scandal: Briatore and the chief engineer of Renault, Pat Symonds, ordered Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash his car to help his teammate Fernando Alonso to win Formula 1's first ever race in Singapore. Briatore started a case against this decision. On the 5th of January 2010, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, the leading men of Renault F1 Team, win their court case. This of course don’t bring joy to the FIA, who decides to appeal for the verdict six days later. As the FIA statement reports:
"While the appeal is underway, the Word Motor Sport Council’s decision of 21 September 2009 remains in full effect. However, in view of the uncertainty that this may create for drivers who may be affected by this decision, the FIA President and FIA Senate have decided that, pending the outcome of the FIA’s appeal, Superlicences will continue to be issued to qualifying drivers in the usual way. The FIA President, the FIA Senate, the World Motor Sport Council, and the FIA’s Member Clubs from all countries will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the continuing integrity and safety of the sport".
In the meantime, Renault announces Eric Boullier as the new Team Principal. He started as race engineer and then moved into management, becoming managing director in 2003 for the team DAMS. The team also announces that they will launch their 2010 contender, named the R30, in Valencia on the 31st of January. Robert Kubica will pair with Vitaly Petrov, who becomes the first Russian driver to race in Formula 1.
The Red Bull Racing team confirms they won’t attend the first preseason test as they are willing to spend extra time in the wind tunnel to work on the new car. Horner is confident that this won’t cause any problems to the team as it worked very well for them the past season. Indeed, in his opinion, last year there was more performance to be added by focusing on test two at Jerez rather than test one. The track debut is scheduled for the 10th of February. This is the most waited launch of the season, as the Red bull appeared to be the leading car at the end of 2009. However, the Austrian team won’t be the only one to miss the first test as Force India has now confirmed that they prefer to further develop their new car, the VJM03. They will introduce the VJM03, an evolution of the VMJ02 of the past season, on the 9th of Febraury, with their line up completed by Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi.
For the 2010 championship, McLaren is again a fully independent team after Mercedes sold its stake. Nevertheless, the Mercedes engines will be used by the team of Woking at least until 2015, but surely the development capacity that Mercedes put into the team will be lost. The team has scheduled to launch their MP4-25 on the 29th of January with the aim to come back to the front of the pack. Past season’s World Champion Jenson Button seems thrilled by the development of the car:
"From the very first day of testing, I’ll be working with the team to learn about the car and to develop it ahead of the first race. I’ve said it before: the pace of development in those opening tests could well determine the outcome of the championship. I’ve got a great team around me, and I already feel very at home here. I just can’t wait to get in the car and start driving again. It really can’t come soon enough".
Also, his teammate doesn’t hide the excitement:
"I’ve seen just how much effort and attention has gone into making this car what it is. We’ve been pushing like crazy to find the performance and the result is something that looks very special and very uncompromising. Both Jenson and I are world champions, and we both want to add to the team’s incredible winning legacy. I think a strong driver line-up will be very important this year as there are a lot of very competitive teams and drivers - and the stronger we can be, the better chance we’ll have of winning races. We all understand that. Obviously, I want to win the drivers’ world championship, that’s clear. But, just as important, I want to help the team win the constructors’ world championship. I think it’s set to be a great year for Formula 1 - it should be brilliant".
The Red Bull sister’s team, Toro Rosso, is ready to begin a new era with the STR15, since it’s now again a constructor after many years of relying on constructions performed by the main team. As the technical director Giorgio Ascanelli admits:
"At the end of last year, we had already increased our staff to around 150 and now we have 200. At the end of March '09, we got the green light as to what actually constituted being an Formula 1 Constructor. That was the starting point for building up our operation in such a way that we could actually design a car that was achievable in engineering terms, working in a different way to the methods we had adopted in the past. Being recognised as a Constructor involves owning the intellectual property rights to what are defined as the listed parts: these are effectively the monocoque, the safety structures that are subject to homologation and crash testing, which means the rear and front structures, primary and secondary roll-over structures and the complete aerodynamic package, the suspension, fuel and cooling systems".
BMW Sauber will design by the Sauber Team since the team is again held by Peter Sauber, after the three years of ownership by BMW. However, due to some legal reasons the official name will still be BMW Sauber. The team will revile their contender for the coming championship on the 31st of January. The car still features the distinctive white colour, combined with dark sidepods, and it will be driven by Kamui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa, who will bring to the team a blend of youth and experience. Peter Sauber says:
"Pedro has spent many years working for a top team at a high technical level. We can only benefit from his experience, and the same goes for young Kamui. The right combination is between a young and an experienced driver. Of course it is also crucial to provide them with a decent car and I am confident because we have managed to work on the 2010 single-seater despite the uncertainties of the last period".
The Catalan driver last raced in Formula 1 at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix, when he replaced Juan Pablo Montoya.
"I have always firmly believed that sooner or later there would be another opportunity as a starting driver. Since the number of tests have been radically reduced, I wanted to get back on track for the races".
Another team is ready to launch their new car on the 1st of February as Williams has been working to improve and develop a better car compared to last year. They will also have a new engine supplier: indeed, Cosworth is now willing to come back to Formula 1. The drivers that will be part of the team will be Rubens Barrichello and the rookie Nico Hulkenberg.
There are three new teams joining Formula 1 for the first time for 2010 championship: Lotus F1 Racing, Virgin Racing and Campos Meta F1. The Team Principal Tony Fernandes confirmes that the Lotus F1 Racing car will be officially launched on the 12th of February 2010, admitting that they will skip the first test too. The team is also relying on the knowledge of Mike Gascoyne to create a car that could compete in the midfield. Lotus Racing launches the Lotus Cosworth T127 on the 13th of February at a glamorous event in the London’s Royal Horticultural Hall, confirming their drivers’ pair: Jrano Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.
Tuesday, 26 January 2010, Schumacher's first official day at Mercedes begins at 11:00 am with a punctuality that has nothing human about it. Here in Stuttgart, the Mercedes headquarters, they are celebrating the debut in front of the international press of the car for the next Formula 1 season (actually only the colour of the livery is new, the profile is still the menacing one of the old Brawn GP) but everyone has come to see something else, that is Michael Schumacher finally wearing white instead of red. At 11:00 am the party begins. An elegant gentleman gets on stage and starts talking. After a couple of minutes, when it is clear that the entire ceremony will be held in German and without interpreters, the journalists from all over the world burst out laughing. Fortunately, the speeches are soon followed by pictures, and then a curtain opens and the car appears, followed by the two drivers, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
The pair walk along the gangway behind the car, each with his own typical gait, the former determined and martial, the latter feigning looseness, like a provincial model. When they stop at the end of the platform, the anomalous wave of flashes explodes. This is the image everyone was waiting for. Few surprises. The colour is the historical one of the Mercedes racing cars: the myth of the Silver Arrows was born when the engineers in Stuttgart chose not to colour the cars any more, so as not to weigh them down with paint. To tell the truth, today's car is more of a tin can colour, which has also been ruined by the dull green of the sponsor (Petronas). More unusual, however, is Schumacher's demeanour: physically very tight, in a white suit, the monster of the wheel appears excited, even clumsy; he gets the wrong wheel to sit on for the ritual photos, almost stumbles, then gets on the wrong side of the car.
"It's a dream come true".
He confesses in English. A few minutes later, a video starts up that seems designed to hurt Montezemolo's ego: Michael is seen smiling inside a red Ferrari road car (but it is a Mercedes 300 slr).
"I don't think Michael will ever advertise for Mercedes".
The Ferrari president was deluded before Christmas. Instead, the commercial tells the story of Schumacher trying not to run over a group of workers working in a tunnel. Acceleration, stunt, mission accomplished, applause. Having quickly forgotten the clip, there are numerous questions. Some about the future. The title?
"One thing is to have all the ingredients to make a good cake, another is to make a good cake. I'm here now, and Ferrari is a competitor. But that mustn't make us forget what happened between us. A piece of my heart will always remain red. In Italy I have many friends and many relationships. I also often talk to many people, like Mamma Rosella".
The owner of the Montana restaurant in Fiorano, queen of tagliatelle with meat sauce.
"She writes me a lot of text messages and asks me when I'm going to visit her. Domenicali also invited me to go skiing, we talk often. Italy will always remain in my heart. But now I have another goal: to do well here, with what in Germany is seen as the German national team. And I would like that, for the Germans, the colour of triumph from today is no longer gold, but the silver of my car".
Then it's time for lunch, the end of the presentation. From the buffet in the Mercedes car museum (the nine-storey, € 400.000.000 structure chosen to host the event) they bring Michael a plate of kalbfleisch maultasche, giant ravioli, and other specialities of Swabian cuisine. There is no fear at Ferrari, which will take the wraps off the new car on Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 10:30 am, in Maranello. It doesn't matter who gets on the cover first. Stefano Domenicali affirms:
"The important thing is that the car is fast and reliable, capable of fighting for the World Championship".
But above all, he's not afraid of Michael Schumacher:
"Because we have a champion like Alonso, who has brought a breath of fresh air and has already shown how good he is at his job. His arrival has given the team great enthusiasm, our adventure with him will last for many years".
Domenicali spoke highly of him in an interview with a Spanish radio station, and the reference to Schumacher, on the day of the Mercedes presentation, does not seem unintentional either.
"A great driver like Alonso has to be given a competitive, winning car, as happened when Schumacher came to us, otherwise he won't be able to express his potential. He can become an important reference point in the development of the car".
The contrast to the illustrious past is clear, and will be the guiding motif throughout the season. Schumacher is hungry for new successes, Alonso must be more hungry, because Ferrari's desire to come back to the fore is great, with the new Spanish acquisition and with Massa. The important thing, according to Domenicali, is not to expect everything from Alonso immediately.
"You mustn't be anxious if things don't go well at the start. The comeback would still be possible, even if this year there are many rivals, the Mercedes of Schumacher and Rosberg, but also the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber and the McLarens of Hamilton and Button".
De Gregori's hit "Viva l'Italia" and Gianna Nannini's words "Sei bellissima" are not random songs, they are the soundtrack of the film that introduces the new Ferrari, a gigantic ad for the Made in Italy label that the Rossa wants to embody even more in 2010. Maybe it's because Michael Schumacher provoked, emphasising the beauty of the German in the pits, or maybe it's because his new beloved, Mercedes, had its first day in its mother tongue (and without the slightest translation), the fact is that never in Maranello has there been such a defence of Italian pride, with press conferences all rigorously in our language (with the comfort, however, for foreign guests of headphones and simultaneous translation into English or Spanish), continuous emphasis by the president Montezemolo, the conviction that the Latin team (the Brazilian Massa and the Iberian Alonso speak Italian very well) will be able to come back great, winning, and beat the perfidious Albion, the McLaren of the English Hamilton and Button, and the Mercedes of the Teutonic Schumacher and Rosberg.
In words, the exaggerated chauvinism is convincing. And it wins over experts and fans alike. Now, however, it is the car that must astonish, which in the next few hours, taking advantage of a promotional spot, could grind out the first hundred kilometres on the Fiorano track, to then pass from Monday' to Valencia in the skilful hands of the two drivers, real and authorised tests, first Massa, fresh father and expert in christenings (he is just back from the ceremony for little Felipinho, two months old), and then Alonso, very skilled at developing a car, called to the first two-day tour de force.
For now, the new Ferrari is a blank sheet of paper, in the sense that it lacks the comfort of the asphalt and the stopwatch, it has secret dimensions (the length has not been announced, but it has increased by at least twenty centimetres), it is reminiscent of last year's Red Bull, even if it is even more elevated, that fireball invented by Newey which, with the help of Vettel's talent, almost transformed the Cinderella into the final queen. The engineers swear by its speed, they know that after last year's failure they can no longer make mistakes, but they have the advantage of having thrown the 2009 project overboard well in advance, before the summer, and of having worked calmly on every detail, small things - they claim - that when added together can revolutionise performance. Making it exciting again and not depressing like last season.
Of course, the unknowns are not lacking even now, the lack of the possibility of refuelling during the race, with the consequence of a petrol tank with a more than doubled capacity, represents the big gamble, but for now they are common to all and on paper everyone believes, by improving consumption, that they have used the winter time better than the others. There's no more kers, and that's a good thing for Ferrari, given the excessive weight and cost, producing no substantial difference, while now the designers have been able to work better on weight distribution. But above all, here's what Ferrari considers a deadly weapon: everyone is on an equal footing on the double diffuser, the weapon (aided by confused regulations) that in 2009 allowed Brawn to surprise everyone. Now Ferrari has studied, designed the car starting from that, increased the load on the rear (the car is longer not only because of the larger fuel tank but also to better accommodate the double diffuser), and it's in that area,' says chief designer Tombazis, 'that the biggest advantages are obtained. Ferrari now has everything to win. And it is at the top that Ferrari must return, as President Montezemolo has asked:
"Because it's our rightful place, it's our history that rules us".
A position that would make the two drivers very happy. Massa, who has never won the World Championship, and promises:
"I'm stronger than before, the accident in Budapest is just a memory, no nightmares at night, just the mad desire to get back to racing".
And above all Alonso, who came to Maranello after winning two world championships with Renault.
"I'm aiming to win and believing it is a must, because I work with the best technicians in the world. Everyone says they're winning at the start, but then there are always two teams fighting for the title, no more. And Ferrari will be one of them. The same goes for the drivers. A battle of three, four at the most. And I'm there for sure".
After Ferrari, on Friday 29 January 2010 it was McLaren's turn. Longer, very high bellies, full of aerodynamic innovations such as the bonnet connected to the rear wing. It's the new Mp4-25 and it keeps the silver colour the Woking team has had in recent years, despite Mercedes GP's choice to repropose the classic livery of the Silver Arrows. The drivers, both world champions, are enthusiastic. Lewis Hamilton (favourite in the bookmakers' predictions) is not afraid of his opponents, starting with his teammate Jenson Button:
"There is esteem and respect between us, we will work together. Alonso? A great champion who will do very well with Ferrari. Schumacher? I've always said I'd like to race against him and I can't wait to be on the same grid".
"Last year's win was wonderful but now it's time to turn the page and think about the new season. I don't want to live on memories"
Great satisfaction for the team principal of the English team, Martin Whitmarsh, who recalled how:
"A great team and a great car can only be successful with the best drivers".
After the magnificent presentations of Ferrari and McLaren, in pharaonic venues and with very rich sponsors, it is quite impressive to see the debut of two former top teams, BMW (now Sauber) and Renault: cars thrown into the pits of a track, few people and no sponsors. Sauber even cut its budget by 40%, fired dozens of people and - provocatively - unveiled an all-white car. Peter Sauber has already candidly admitted:
"With the money we have, we can only run in 2010, but for the next few years, without a sponsor, we can't go on".
Same thing at Renault, who were forced to hire Vitaly Petrov, the first Russian to run in Formula 1, just because he brings a dowry of $15.000.000. But the French - at least - have had the good taste not to resort to the white livery but to return to the classic yellow-black of the first Renault F1 cars. Except that they then repainted the car at the first available sponsor. In any case, the team runs with the fear that Carlos Goshn, the boss of the French manufacturer, has already announced: without results (economic and on the track) next year the team will retire. In the meantime, everyone is trying to attract money as best they can: if Renault has a Russian driver, Sauber has a female team manager. And there is already talk of a Chinese driver. In these times, anything goes.
Virgin Racing looks most as a team ready to compete. With Virgin behind the main company, it seems financially a settled team, having also the experienced car designer Nick Wirth as part of the team who will design the car using Computational Fluid Dynamics utilities. The car presentation has some delays as they are not going to take part to the first test in Valencia, making their car debut in Silverston on the 5th of Febraury. Their line up for the 2010 championship is formed by Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi.
In the meantime, Campos Meta F1 is working with Dallara to design and build the car which will be driven by Bruno Senna. However, the team has reported to have financial difficulties as they have a pending of 7 millions to the Italian team Dallara, and this might lead to sell the team to Jose Ramon Carabante. Indeed, this happens on the 19th of February. The team is renamed, after Carabante’s company Grupo Hispania, Hispania Racing F1 Team. The car will be launched on the 4th of March, confirming Karun Chandhok as second driver.
The 2010 championship will also face a new points system: the race winner will receive 25 points, the 2nd place 18 points (with a gap of 7 points from the top position), 3rd place will get 15 points, 12 points for the 4th classified, 10 for the 5th, 8 for the 6th, 6 for the 7th, 4 for the 8th, 2 for the 9th and finally one point for who comes in 10th place. The number of dry weather tyres sets assigned per team has been reduced from 14 to 11. The cars having joined the Q3 must start the race on the same set of tyres with which their grid time was set in Q2, to introduce a further contribution for strategy.
In addition, one set has to be returned before the start of the second practice session in order to have more teams running during the Friday free practices, and two sets before the start of the third practice session. Also, all 12 teams that will take part of the 2010 championship have been ordered to add GPS system to their cars, which will be directly transferred to the race director, Charlie Whiting. They also want to add coloured LED panels signaling the flag colours to the drivers in a more precise way.
We are now ready to start the first test of the season. The teams have now 15 days for test sessions over the next four weeks in Spain: from the 1st to the 3rd of February in Valencia, from the 10th to the 13th and again from the 17th to the 20th in Jerez, and finally in Barcelona for the last four days of testing from the 25th to the 28th February.
During the first day of the preseason tests, only seven teams kick off on track. Its’s currently sunny in Valencia with an air temperature of 12°C and a track temperature of 13°C. The first day sees a comfortable Felipe Massa on top with a fastest lap of 1’12”574, with 102 laps completed. He has worked mainly on defining a baseline set-up for the new car and on analyzing the behavior of the new Bridgestone tyres:
"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 program 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".
Pedro de la Rosa comes second with his BMW Sauber C29 car, setting a lap that is 0.210 seconds slower than Massa. As Pedro himself confirms:
"For me it was a very positive day. The car was reliable right from the beginning, which meant we could follow our program perfectly without wasting any time. Also the car reacted to our changes very well. For me it was a day to get used to not only the new car but also to the team with all the people. And, of course, driving-wise there’s more to come from me as this was only my first day after a long break".
The Mercedes’s drivers, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg take chequered flag respectively in 3rd and 4th positions, being an overall good first day on track for the team, as Ross Bran underlines:
"We have had a very useful first day of testing here in Valencia. Our priority was to ensure that the new car was functioning properly and allow both drivers to use their short window of track time to get acclimatised to the car and its operations. Today's work has provided a good basis for the next couple of days and it was rewarding to see that the car ran reliably".
The session gets red flagged as Barrichello on his Williams stops on track. Sebastian Buemi hasn’t been able to run for most of the day as he encountered a gearbox problem.
"I feel like a kid with a new toy in his hand".
Admits Schumacher. His session starts at 3:30 pm. There are still a couple of hours to go. Michael returns to the motorhome and to distract himself he puts water on the stove for a plate of spaghetti. Knowing how to cook spaghetti is one of the few visible things he has left from the Italian experience. Seen like this, with that grey suit on and that Teutonic air, it seems decades since his days at Ferrari. In the afternoon Rosberg leaves him the wheel.
"It was just like going back to the beginning. On the first lap I was so excited, I said to myself: how fast are these cars. Then I got used to it. The Ferrari? Yes, it was strange to see my car running and not be on it. But Massa was on it and I was pleased anyway".
During the second day, Felipe dominates again continuing his purpose of developing the car, completing 124 laps and a fastest lap of 1’11”722. His main concern is finding the best set up that can suit different conditions. Ferrari has completed more than 900km without suffering any problems so far. Meanwhile, Sauber still continues their positive trend, setting again the second fastest lap with their other driver Kamui Kobayashi (1’12”056) with 96 laps completed. Indeed, Kobayashi confirms:
"It was definitely a good day. We had no problems with the car and covered a lot of mileage. The car felt good. I enjoyed driving a lot and also working with the team. It was a difficult winter for everyone, but they seem to have done a good job; I want to thank them for that. Now it is important to keep working hard for the remaining test opportunities".
Lewis Hamilton comes 3rd with a lap of 1’12”256 with 108 laps, focusing on understanding the difference in balance caused by the heavier fuel loads and narrower 2010 spec front tyres. On the other hand, Rosberg in his Mercedes suffers from visibility problems, confirming that he is not entirely comfortable with his position in the car. Despite these problems, Nico still manages to have a productive day, completing different long runs and covering a good mileage. We can also say it has been a better day today for Toro Rosso as they have been able to fix their gearbox problem, completing 107 laps.
It’s now the third and last day here in Valencia. It will also be the debut of Alonso officially on track with Ferrari. Driving with the number 8, Fernando is ready to hit the track, but unfortunately a red flag caused by a car who stops on track delays the runs. However, the Spaniard comes on top at the end of the testing day with a lap that is 5 tenths faster than the rest (1’11”470). Pedro de la Rosa comes 2nd fastest again, followed by Mercedes driver Schumacher. The German suffers from a hydraulic problem that forces him to stop one hour early. The Sauber finishes the first three days of testing, confirming the speed of the new C29. As the technical director Willy Rampf affirms:
"We are quite satisfied with the first test. We did exactly 1001 km in total. As well as being reliable, it was important to see that the car responded to changes in the way we expected. The drivers’ comments on the car basically were in line with that, which also helps the team to work in the right direction. In the morning we lost around one and a half hours of track time because of an incident with another car. We had to change the floor, the front wing and the engine cover and to prioritise our program afterwards. But still it was a good day on the track. Again we were lucky with the weather, which gave us very good and consistent track conditions".
The second test of the preseason is now about to kick off. We are going to spend the next 4 days in Jerez, with the teams trying to collect as more data as possible. The first day is characterized by a rainy weather, making the conditions of the track wet. Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg seems to be the one adapting the best to these conditions as he comes on top at the end of the first day, with a fastest lap of 1’20”927. Second comes Sebastian Buemi on his toro rosso (1’21”031), followed by Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg (1’22”234). Meanwhile, Sauber BMW is forced to skip some aero tests due to wet conditions. For Ferrari it seems to be another good day of testing, despite the weather conditions. As Alonso reports:
"The work was influenced by the bad weather, but nevertheless we managed to drive many kilometers and almost did 90 laps. So, we’re satisfied, because we could collect lots of data, which is important for the reliability. We hope that the weather is better tomorrow, because it’s important to drive on a dry track, too. The car went very well on the wet track though and it’s easy to drive. The feeling is good, just like on the dry. All in all, I had some positive sensations today".
Renault suffers from some brake system problems, which doesn’t allow the team to complete proper runs. Even in the Red Bull garage, there are some mechanical problems. In fact, the team has an oil leak in the late morning which leads to an engine change in the afternoon. This underlines some reliability problems for the Austrian team. Today it’s also the first time Virgin hits the track with Timo Glock, and as Nick Wirth affirms:
"We’ve completed some short installation runs today without any car-related issues. A few new parts arrived here quite late yesterday and so the only option was for everyone to work through the night. Sadly, that meant we missed the dry-window, and we are not at a point where it is worth risking the car in wet running. As a result, we’ve kept things sensible and worked through the job list to prepare the car for tomorrow. Timo’s early feedback has been as it was at Silverstone and so we all look forward to a solid day of running tomorrow. It’s ironic that the weather was better on Friday in Silverstone than it has been for most of today".
Throughout the second day of test here in Jerez, the weather is improving, allowing the teams to carry out all the running on dry weather tyres. Kamui Kobayashi tops the classification with a lap time of 1’19”950 and 103 laps completed. Buemi confirms his second place with 121 laps run:
"I am pleased with how the past two days have gone and although rain is never ideal, yesterday’s damp conditions meant we could try the wet weather tyres. Today, in the dry, we were able to do a lot of laps, as the car ran reliably. We tried various set-ups and ran with different fuel loads, so we are beginning to get a better understanding of STR5 in general".
Meanwhile, Button sets the third fastest lap of the day with 1’20”618, having spent most of the day completing aero runs with the MP4-25. Virgin Consworth driver Glock is almost 10 seconds behind, due to a mounting problem of the nosecone and having completed only 11 laps. Nico Hulkenberg has some small hydraulic problems, but despite the late entry he is still able to put the car in the 4th place. As Sam Michael, technical director of Williams, says:
"We had some mechanical problems with the hydraulic system and the driveline today. We had a leak first thing this morning, which we identified relatively quickly, but it took us a long time to correct because the clutch was covered with hydraulic fluid. That effectively ruled us out of most of the morning session. We encountered a smaller issue this afternoon with a driveshaft component. It was quicker to rectify, but obviously wasn’t ideal in terms of track time. We still made our way through three or four set-up changes and we'll just have to target higher mileage tomorrow with Rubens".
We are now approaching the fourth and last day of the second testing in Jerez. Lewis Hamilton comes fastest with a good mileage of 113 laps and a lap time of 1’19”583, going faster than Sutil by 6 tenths. Third is Barrichello, followed by Kubica, Schumacher and Vettel. Barichello manages to complete 90 laps in mainly dry conditions, but he overcomes some gearbox problems during the day which cut his session shorter:
"We concentrated on set-ups today and completed 90 laps before we had the problem which the team are investigating now. The car has performed well these past two days and we’ve discovered some interesting things which will help us move it forward. I was hoping to go for a performance run at the end of the day because the car felt good, but unfortunately my session was cut short. There’s work to do in terms of improving performance, but I’m happy with the results that are coming out".
The Williams car is not the only one to incur issues. Vettel, in fact, suffers from a fuel pump failure in the afternoon, which means that this has limited the chances to have some runs in dry conditions. On the other hand, Mercedes seems satisfied with the last day of testing, with 84 laps in the pocket. As Schumacher points out:
"We had a good day today to end this week's test program. The weather affected us a little in the early part of the day, but we were able to use our time very effectively once we could run on dry tyres. We completed everything that we wanted and were able to increase our understanding of the car a step further so overall it's been positive. It's very tough to understand the order of the teams just yet as everyone can play so much with the fuel loads. So, there is a lot of speculation going on but it's very interesting".
Massa comes only 7th with a lap that is almost 2 seconds slower than the McLaren, but the team mainly focuses on a long run program with 160 laps completed.
"We’ve never driven 700 kilometres in just one day. Physically I feel well, I actually thought that I might be more tired than I am. I’m pleased by the work we’ve done today, because we could test the car under all conditions. I’m happy for myself and the team: we concluded the foreseen program and there is lots of data to analyse over the upcoming days, so we can prepare ourselves the best possible way for the next test session, without any particular problems".
It's time for the second test in Jerez and third overall. The ten teams who took part in the previous sessions remained here with Lotus who arrived yesterday. We have also a 12th team for the third testing as Virgin joins too. Sebastian Vettel sets fastest lap of the day with a lap of 1’22”593 and 99 laps run in mainly wet conditions as heavy rain overnight and in the morning makes the track waterlogged. Finally, the sky clears up at lunchtime which provides dry running, despite a return of the rain in the late afternoon. There is a problem with the official timing system as it shuts down for an hour deleting some recorded laps, but it’s clear that nobody goes fastest than Sebastian today. Ian Morgan, Head of Race Engineering of Red Bull, confirms:
"We got a lot of laps done and the car has been good and reliable. We’ve made a few small changes, but we didn’t get through as much as the program as we’d hoped because of the weather. Sebastian and the car were consistent on the long runs in the dry which is promising".
Hamilton is 2nd with his MP4-25, followed by Ferrari driver Massa and Toro Rosso driver Buemi. The Ferrari team decides to try a second chassis with the number 282, but today’s work involves evaluation of the tyres usage in the wet conditions, in order for the technicians to collect data of different set ups. It is a frustrating day for Renault, since the car seems to suffer in the mixed conditions of today. They only manage to complete 55 laps and the 9th fastest lap of Petrov. Says Alan Permane, chief engineer of Renault:
"It was a very frustrating day, especially for Vitaly who has had very little dry running so far. The frequent showers meant that the track was wet for most of the day and we couldn’t achieve a great deal of constructive work".
Once again Barrichello suffers from mechanical problems, but nevertheless he finishes with the 2nd fastest lap and a total of 109 laps completed. The new team Virgin Racing only manages 10 laps, due to some hydraulic issues. Nick Wirth, who is the team’s technical director, comments:
"We have experienced a sequence of hydraulic problems which were tricky to diagnose on a new car. This caused us to suffer long and frustrating periods confined to the garage and when we did venture out on track it was purely to conduct a series of exploratory out-laps to try to understand if we had cured the problem".
On the other hand, it’s a good day overall for Lotus, which completes 300 km in one day without any problem with 76 laps in the pocket.
Today, 18th of February, it’s Barrichello’s time to shine as he tops the session on the second day with his FW32. The technical director seems satisfied with the work:
"Rubens finished off another wet day in Jerez having covered a lot of mileage for reliability. He also completed some systems checks and carried out a program of pitstop practice. All the pitstops were done under wet conditions and we're working on some refinements for tomorrow when Nico will take over".
Reanult comes 2nd with Petrov completing once again a short mileage of 56 laps, followed by Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel and his compatriot Nico Rosberg. With constantly changing conditions, BMW Sauber decides to limit today’s mileage, completing only 8 laps this morning. Some mechanical issues for the Ferrari team cause Massa to stop for 2 hours at the box. Nevertheless, he comes 6th with a total of 92 laps. Lotus has some problems as Kovalainen goes off-track after 30 laps completed, bringing the team’s day to an early close. Despite that, they are still able to collect some useful data which give the chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne reasons to be positive:
"Unfortunately a small off and a lack of spare parts curtailed the amount of laps we were able to do today, but fortunately we’ve got spare parts arriving this evening. Up to that point we had got on top of some reliability issues from the previous day and the car was running very smoothly. Although we have lost some track time, the changing conditions made it very difficult, so we haven’t lost too much and we’ll be ready to continue with Heikki in the morning".
For the third day of testing with have a new driver coming fastest as Webber sets a lap of 1’19”299 in his Red Bull. He has a small mechanical issue that costs him 2 hours of running, but overall, he manages to complete 115 laps doing short and long runs. He confirms:
"We’re certainly showing some good form in terms of reliability, but we always need to work on performance; you never know that the other teams are doing. We’re in a good position at the moment to build up to the first race - it’s close, but there’s also quite a way to go, as other teams have no doubt planned developments for Bahrain. We’re doing the work we need to do, in order to understand the car more".
The Australian is followed by Ferrari driver Alonso and by Jenson Button in his MP4-25. Renault faces some problems due to the wind, but they are still able to finish 100 laps finalizing their work on different set ups. Meanwhile in his Williams, Nico Hulkenberg completes race simulations and pit stop practices with his race crew, before stopping on track. The team confirms it is a hydraulic problem, but they are still happy with the high mileage they have usefully concluded. Today it is also the first day Lotus is able to complete the first run on slicks, even though they finish only 68 laps overall.
It’s now the 20th of February and also the final day of the penultimate test. It seems like today’s weather has been the most consistent of the last few days, which means it will allow teams to have dry running throughout the day. Button finishes this third test on top, going fastest with a lap time of 1'18"871 (the fastest lap of every sessions so far). In the morning, he focuses to complete different short runs with 3 tyres compound, testing aero balance and mechanical set-ups. Robert Kubica comes second fastest, Kobayashi is in on third and Liuzzi on fourth. As Kobayashi underlines, it seems a perfect day for Sauber:
"I’m really happy with our final day of testing in Jerez. It was a perfect day for us. The conditions were ideal, and the car ran trouble-free, so we were able to complete 117 laps and gather a lot of data. We made some progress with the set- up of the car. We will now analyse the data and draw the relevant conclusions for the next test in Barcelona".
Also Liuzzi confirms to be satisfied with Force India’s progress:
"Today was a really productive day for us. We covered 80 laps without any issues and got through our program of test items for this week. Everything went pretty well - we worked on understanding the car’s performance with different fuel loads and ran through some set-up changes and the car is responding well. We still need to work on the tyres over the longer runs and will continue this at the next test in Barcelona. Overall I think we can be very satisfied with how this test has gone and can look forward to another good test next week".
The teams are now ready to head to Barcelona for the last session of preseason testing before the Bahrain Grand Prix. In fact, this is the crucial test as the teams can better understand where their cars stand. We have a first surprise of the day as a Ferrari car has to stop, with Alonso being able to complete only 11 laps in the morning. It seems to be a problem related to the electronics of the car. Nevertheless, he comes back again on track in the afternoon to finish the work program and evaluate the new long fin on the bonnet and other aerodynamic parts. He manages to complete 74 laps with an overall fastest lap of 1’24”170. Webber is the fastest man today, bringing his Red bull on top with a lap of 1’21”487. As he admits:
"We had a pretty good day of testing. We did some simulations and performance items in the morning and a race simulation in the afternoon. We had a precautionary stop in the middle of the race simulation because of a gearbox oil alarm, but the guys got the car turned around pretty quickly and we finished the session, so it wasn’t too bad".
Second fastest of the day is Nico Hulkenberg in his FW32, completing a total of 82 laps. He focuses on testing different set ups, completes long runs and system checks. The German is followed by his compatriot Nico Rosberg, who manages to complete 107 laps. Pedro de la Rosa is fourth, even though the team is not satisfied since they have faced some balance problems. As the day comes to an end, it is another positive session for the new team of Lotus. The car seems to be quite reliable as Fauzy is able to complete 74 laps, with Trulli taking the wheel tomorrow. It’s the second day of the Barcelona tests and Nico Hulkenberg confirms the positive trend of the team. He tops the timesheet with a fastest lap of 1’20”614 and 99 laps in the pocket. The technical director, Sam Michael is pleased with the progress of the team, but they still have some work to do:
"Nico finished his last day of winter testing today with a good run of laps. Our program included the evaluation of a new sidepod, starts practice and some additional work on the set-up of the FW32. We’re making progress, but there’s still plenty to do".
Alonso comes back in the top three, setting the second fastest lap (1’20”637) and 134 laps completed. Nevertheless, they still have some problems as they have to stop on track for some small mechanical issues. Pedro de la Rosa gains a position compared to yesterday, taking the third place:
"Today was a very good preparation for the season’s start in Bahrain. The reliability of the car was perfect and I think the performance was also good, especially in the race simulation. It was a very good exercise and I feel we have now done everything possible to get ready for the first Grand Prix. It was also a big day for me because it has been a while since I last completed a race distance. I feel very well and also really confident now".
Liuzzi comes fourth, after completing an intensive program: short runs in the morning and race simulation in the afternoon. The team will now prepare the second chassis that will be tested by Sutil in the last 2 days. Meanwhile, Kubica faces limited running due to a suspension failure and he completes only 53 laps; they team is ready to test some new parts in the coming days.
The countdown to the end of the preseason tests is now starting with only two days to go. There are mixed conditions today, as it is most likely to rain during the day. This will probably slow down the programs of the teams. Nico Rosberg leads the way with his Mercerdes Grand Prinx (1’20”686), despite having to stop due to few problems with 45 minutes to go. However, it is a positive day for the team who is almost a second quicker than the second fastest man on track, Sebastien Buemi (1’21”413). Says Nico about today:
"We had a good day today and made some significant progress in terms of set-up which was nice to see. We hadn’t got the most out of the car in terms of performance over the last couple of days, but we made a step in the right direction today. We went through some big changes this morning step by step and found some good improvements".
Buemi seems satisfied with how his first day of testing in Barcelona went:
"Despite the rain, my first day has gone well, carrying out a race simulation was very useful and it was particularly interesting to see how the tyre behaviour changes depending on the fuel load. In the races, it will be important to drive smoothly, as on full tanks it is very easy to damage the tyres if you slide too much. Today was good and so we can try and improve a bit more tomorrow, our last chance before Bahrain".
Rain showers delay the plans of Force India to try the second chassis as Sutil is able only to complete performance running rather than a race simulation. Indeed, the total laps completed by the driver are just 61. Button comes third with his McLaren, ending once again a race simulation during the afternoon. This morning, due to some rain showers, the team has been conducting some shorter installation runs to find a set-up that could work in these conditions. It’s a problem free day for the Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. He is able to complete another race simulation with 115 laps and to try new aerodynamic solutions, finding more grip and downforce:
"We managed to drive many miles, which is always positive. We finished another race simulation without any problems, which helped us to better understand the tyre behaviour with different fuel loads and under different track conditions. I’m satisfied with today. We’re working in the right direction for the start of the Championship".
At the end of the winter tests, Alonso is confident:
"To date it's definitely the best car I've ever had. Red Bull, McLaren and Renault have been really fast and have shown their cards to play for the championship. We, on the other hand, have not yet shown all ours. Now we will analyse the data collected, but right now I am very optimistic. If I were in another team, I would keep an eye on Ferrari because everything is going well".
Is Ferrari ready for the challenge? Not yet, but almost. Alonso points out one point on which to work:
"Where we could improve is in the short runs with little fuel on board."
It’s the 28th of February and the final day of testing, before the championship kicks off in Bahrain. Today’s action brings the testing to a conclusion after fifteen days of actions on track in Valencia, Jerez and Barcelona. McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton is back on top, realizing an overall of 134 laps for the team which is able to finetune important data for different set ups and balances with the new components. With a best lap of 1’20”472, Lewis Hamilton is satisfied of the final works prior the start of the championship.
Mark Webber sets the second fastest lap which is only 24 thousands slower than the first. The driver has to share the car with his teammate Vettel, completing respectively 59 and 76 laps. The German, in fact, has had less time on track than scheduled due to bad weather yesterday, finishing fifth today with a lap of 1’20”667. Ian Morgan, head of race engineering, is pleased with the work done:
"losing a bit of time yesterday we didn’t do everything we wanted to with Seb, so we got pretty much a day and half’s testing into today- which is why we have done 137 laps. It’s been busy, but we have got a lot done. This final test was good for us. With our limited testing in the dry at the two Jerez tests, the four days of almost completely dry weather here meant that we got back on course and we have made a lot of progress this week. It’s been a very good test".
Third comes Felipe Massa finishing his program, followed by Force India driver Sutil. As we already mentioned, Vettel finishes fifth. His compatriot Michael Schumacher is right behind him with a lap of 1’20”745. He affirms:
"The four testing days here in Barcelona have helped us to make significant progress with the MGPW01 and I am feeling quite confident for the start of the season. It is always difficult to read too much into testing but knowing our program, it is fair to say that the times did not always reflect the true picture. We have worked through many set-up and development evaluations this week and gained valuable information to study before Bahrain. We are heading the first race with a good feeling and we know that we will have our upgrades there. But most of all we know that our prospects for even the first races are looking very reasonable now".
It’s a good final day for Toro Rosso too. Indeed, the team has managed to complete 5746 kms overall, rounding off their pre-season program. We can’t say the same for Sauber, as they finish the tests with a reliability issue to the gear box, which takes away 2 hours of work scheduled for them. Same happens to Renault and the team is not able to complete any laps in the morning. This means they need to compact their scheduled plan in the afternoon. In fact, Robert Kubica completes 107 laps, though still encountering some further problems:
"In the morning we lost a lot of track time with technical problem. In the afternoon we tried to do a race distance, which was interrupted, but we did cover a lot of laps. Afterwards we just did a couple more runs for set-up work to try and improve the car a bit more".
"We have done everything we set out to do at the start of this month of testing: we are very happy with the work we have done. We wanted to have a competitive car and I think we have achieved that. We have achieved a good level of reliability, which is very important. It's hard to say who worked best. Today the classification says Hamilton, but we are all within a few tenths. For my part I am satisfied with the car, both when we simulated qualifying and when we ran with a lot of fuel on board".
Woe betide, however, if Ferrari's predictions are too optimistic.
"I think we're in the group of those who have done well in these tests, as we saw on this last day. When a lot of us were running around simulating qualifying. I don't agree at all with those who say we're the strongest: I think we're there, along with several teams. I can't say we'll go to Bahrain and win, but I know we'll fight to do so. We made some aerodynamic changes here, which improved the performance of the car: now it's a matter of continuing to work in this direction. The important thing is to be in front at the end of the year, not now. I've been lucky enough to drive several strong Ferraris and I'll only know if the F10 is the best I've ever driven after the Abu Dhabi race".
Cohabitation with Fernando Alonso is not a problem for the Brazilian driver.
"I have a good relationship with everyone, I have never had any problems with my teammate. We work well together, that's what counts. Fernando is intelligent and knows that for the team it is important to have a good car. I know it too and we are working for it".
After a fortnight's testing in Spain, the question remains as to how the tyres will behave in the high temperatures that are certain to be encountered in Bahrain and Malaysia, just to limit ourselves to the first part of the season.
"The situation may be a little different, but in these sessions we still got an idea of how the tyres will work this year. Maybe sometimes, like yesterday for example, it was too cold for certain types of tyres and they didn't perform as well as they could, but we were able to gather a lot of information that will be useful during the championship. Their behaviour will also influence the strategies: if there is a lot of wear, then maybe more stops will be necessary, but we will find out race by race".
This year, as there is no longer a restriction on the amount of petrol on board, the timing of pit stops will be much more unpredictable and will affect the final result even more. Meanwhile Michael Schumacher, back behind the wheel for the Mercedes GP challenge, crowns McLaren after the final day of testing in Barcelona in which Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of the week. However, the German admits it is virtually impossible to know the order of values going into the first race of the season in Bahrain in a fortnight' time.
"They looked very strong today, no doubt, but for Bahrain it depends on many factors. We will have to wait to find out, it's a difficult puzzle to read".
Schumacher also says the mood at his team is positive ahead of the start of the season.
"It has been a difficult job for everyone, with long nights dedicated to the mechanics. There is hard work behind it and I am grateful to everyone who is working hard in the factory. Overall we are confident with our performance so far ahead of the start of the World Championship".
At one point the Kerpen star found himself on track duelling with Hamilton himself.
"It was fun. It was interesting to see that overtaking was possible. Obviously it wasn't possible as we were at different stages of our laps and in relation to the state of the tyres".
Ferrari is trying to decipher the verdicts of its Spanish tests, but the most important words for the Maranello team come from London, through the mouth of Lewis Hamilton. The British driver, World Champion in 2008, is satisfied with the progress made by McLaren at Montmelò, is open about his predictions for the season and, above all, speaks sweet words for the Maranello cars:
"McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Sauber and Force India are the most competitive teams, but at the moment Ferrari seems to me to be the fastest of all".
But McLaren is taking important steps forward:
"During the first day of testing I wasn't particularly impressed, we weren't fast enough compared to Ferrari. But on the last day we improved the car and it was a big confidence boost".
Hamilton is excited by the idea of racing against Schumacher:
"It's an honour to have such a legend on the track. Alonso is also an incredible driver and now that he's at Ferrari I expect it to be a tough, fun battle".
And speaking of Ferrari, having clocked up 7,353 kilometres of testing, team principal Stefano Domenicali is outspoken.
"Yes we are satisfied with the work done in these four test sessions, especially because we managed to complete all the programme we had defined. First and foremost, it was important to achieve a good level of reliability and I think we can say that we have achieved that goal, even though we must always maintain absolute concentration and improve where we are, and improve where we can. We have to give credit to the team for working very hard this winter to prepare us in the best possible way and to be able to take advantage of the 15 days of testing available. With such a limited testing period, it would have been a shame to lose just a few hours due to a technical problem".
Domenicali, who will take part in the debriefing on Monday 1 March 2010 with all the technicians who have returned from Barcelona, also expressed a positive opinion of the level of performance achieved by the new single-seater:
"From what we could see and considering all the unknowns related to testing, I think we have shown that we can be competitive with the best, both in terms of pure performance and over the long haul. It is an important result, if we think about how the season ended no more than four months ago in Abu Dhabi, and one that we have worked hard for over the last few months. Now we have to keep pushing on with the development of the F10, because this will be one of the keystones of the season".
It is difficult to say who is the favourite after what we have seen in recent weeks, even for the insiders.
"I'm not used to making predictions, but it's clear that it's going to be a very balanced championship, unlike last year. Before the tests it was thought that there might be four teams fighting for the title but, from what we have seen, there are other cars that can be very competitive. In addition, there are still many issues to be resolved, such as the behaviour of the tyres at high temperatures and the management of the race strategy, just to name a couple. With such close performances, all it takes is one slip-up and you could find yourself out of Q3. This means that we have to try to work to the maximum, on all fronts: team, drivers, car. We are aware that we will be up against some very strong teams, who came from a season that ended very differently to ours, who also worked very well during the winter and who will do everything they can to excel. What is certain is that we feel ready to face the challenge ahead of us".
As the day comes to an end, every team is now set for the start of the championship which will take over in 2 weeks time. Every team, except one: Hispania Racing F1 Team. As the tests have already anticipated, we will live a very thrilling start of the championship, so let’s start our countdown: we are currently at -14 days. Formula 1 starts again, the controversies start again. To light the fuse is Ferrari forced to bitterly note how the policy desired and imposed by Max Mosley - a low cost Formula 1 that attracts small constructors to the detriment of the big constructors - has already largely proved unfortunate and a loser. In a case signed by Grillo Rampante which appeared on the official website on February 23, 2010, we can read all of Ferrari's concern for a world championship that risks losing parts even before starting. Of the four new teams registered, two (Virgin and Lotus) arrive at the beginning of the world championship with enormous difficulties, a third (Campos) arrives pushed by an invisible hand (it seems that Bernie Ecclestone himself intervened to guarantee funds to the team) and the fourth has disappeared even before starting (there is no reliable news of USF1, the Americans seem willing to skip the first four Grands Prix of the season).
"It is sad to see Ferrari use such words. Formula 1 needs new teams and Ferrari won the battle to make sure the rookie teams were shackled. For testing, we have built a new single-seater and for testing we will have the same amount of time guaranteed to Ferrari or others who have had years to get to a certain level".
This is Richard Branson's response to Ferrari's criticism of the current state of the circus.
"Ferrari should welcome with open arms the new teams that will make the championship more interesting. We will make Ferrari look better for a year or two until we catch up with them".
In the meantime, two manufacturers like BMW and Toyota have been lost along the way and a third one, Renault, has little more than the name left. It was worth it? Beyond the question, obviously rhetorical, there are two objectives of Ferrari's move. The first is that of forcing, with the force of objectively disturbing facts, the president of the FIA, Jean Todt, to acknowledge the failure of the Mosley line (from which, according to most, he has not diverged sufficiently so far); the second is to prepare the way for a new system to fill the grid starting from 2011: given the unimaginable level of the new entries, says Ferrari, shouldn't we relaunch the idea of the third car?
Caterina Masetti Zannini