VALENCIA // It was a day of contrasting fortunes for world champions Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso as they both made debuts for their new teams on the final day of testing in Valencia yesterday. Alonso set the fastest time of the entire week, trumping new teammate Felipe Massa who had dominated the previous two testing sessions, as he quickly got up to speed with the F10.
Button, in contrast, ran considerably fewer laps as he began preparations for his title defence at race one of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, on March 14. The Briton's first outing on the track lasted just three installation laps and, following 12 more laps, he complained to his engineers about being uncomfortable with his seat positioning. As the team worked to rectify the problem, Button, driving the MP4-25 with the No 1 emblazoned on it, appeared in relaxed mood throughout at the circuit and said he was happy with his first impressions of the car.
Alonso, who was watched by an estimated 30,000 of his countrymen, said the handling of his Ferrari appeared to be far easier than the Italian team's 2009 challenger, which Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella had described as difficult to drive. However, Alonso played down the importance of the timesheets. "It's difficult to make comparisons," he said. "We may have been first at this test but we don't know the other team's strategies so we'll have to wait for future tests. But I'm quite happy with how it went."
The two-time world champion, notorious for his technical input at Renault, has already made changes to the Ferrari for this season, having altered the car's steering wheel before the team's first test. He explained: "For me, it was too complex so it's a little simpler now." In all, there were three world champions among the seven drivers on track, with Michael Schumacher, who had made his debut for Mercedes late on Monday, enjoying his first full day of action.
Schumacher spent much of the day about a second a lap slower than Alonso. Ross Brawn, the Mercedes team principal, admitted his team were struggling to match both Ferrari and McLaren for speed, despite Button's initial problems. "It's very difficult to judge but we're just a little bit off the pace," said Brawn. "I'd say we're reasonable - not as quick as Ferrari and McLaren have been - so it looks like we've got our work cut out."
Brawn said Schumacher and teammate Nico Rosberg, who had driven the car on the previous two days in Valencia, had both complained of handling problems and about the balance of the car. However he insisted both things would be fixed in time for next week's test in Jerez, Spain. The seven-hour session witnessed its first crash of the week as Pedro de la Rosa, the BMW driver, and Williams' Nico Hulkenberg came to blows on the track.
De la Rosa blamed Hulkenberg, claiming "he hadn't seen me coming up the inside". Both cars had to be repaired before the pair returned to action. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org