Felipe Massa has headed the timesheets in Formula 1’s first opportunity to sample Pirelli’s tyres that will be used for the 2011 season, heading a 13-driver field on the first official test day at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit.
The Brazilian had been vocal in his complaints during the 2010 season that his inability to effectively warm the Bridgestone tyres were to blame for his generally poor qualifying performances, and the result could not have been the more perfect start to reinvigorating his 2011 title ambitions.
Massa’s fastest time came in the afternoon’s running, displacing the best effort posted by Sebastian Vettel in the morning.
While the session was more about getting familiar with the new-for-2011 rubber, it’s worthwhile to use the Young Driver test session results as a comparison. Massa’s time was two-tenths slower than the fastest test time posted by Ferrari’s development driver Jules Bianchi, and half-a-second slower than the qualifying time posted by Fernando Alonso for last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – both times were on Bridgestone tyres.
Newly crowned champion Vettel finished up three-tenths off Massa’s pace, but finished up seven-tenths ahead of Gary Paffett, who will be McLaren’s workhorse for the two-day test in place of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi was fourth-quickest – 0.8 seconds behind Massa’s best – while Rubens Barrichello finished up sixth-fastest after completing nearly 100 laps.
The pair sandwiched Robert Kubica, who struck mechanical trouble and could only post about half the lap count achieved by many in the field.
Also to hit mechanical issues were Force India, who suffered an exhaust problem with Adrian Sutil at the wheel in the morning. The team’s re3gular test driver, Paul di Resta, completed 20 laps in the afternoon session once the problem had been repaired.
Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg was eighth-fastest, and the most vocal about his complaints of the new tyres, adding that they are providing a similar lack of front-end grip that befell the W01 chassis on Bridgestone tyres. This test is vital for Mercedes GP, which struggled with front-end tyre grip throughout the 2010 season, and the data will prove crucial in how it develops its 2011 chassis before pre-season testing kicks off.
Jaime Alguersuari finished up ninth-quickest – one spot ahead of Sutil – while the three rookie teams predictably brought up the rear of the timesheets.
Timo Glock took top honours out of the Lotus-Virgin-HRT battle, with Lotus’ Heikki Kovalainen about half a second down on Glock’s best lap.
The man rumoured to be signed to Williams for 2011, Pastor Maldonado, had his second day’s running in the Hispania Racing Cosworth, and finished the day nearly a second down on Kovalainen’s fastest lap.
The session was brought to a halt with Pirelli’s first tyre failure – striking Vettel on the right-rear – with two minutes of play remaining. The cause of the failure will be investigated by the manufacturer overnight before the second and final day of the test gets underway tomorrow.
Pirelli Tyre Test Day 1 Lap Times: