Jean-Eric Vergne Robert Wickens Stefano Coletti

Red Bull protégé Jean-Éric Vergne has, perhaps not surprisingly, continued Red Bull Racing’s red-hot form in 2011 by going quickest on the opening day of the ‘Young Drivers’ test at Abu Dhabi. The Frenchman’s best lap was almost a second quicker than his compatriot, Jules Bianchi, who was driving for Ferrari.

Vergne and Bianchi will be the only runners who have been handed the full three days of testing by their respective teams, and it was Vergne who settled in from the moment testing got underway at 9am local time. After topping the timesheets in the morning’s running, he then set about improving his times further, only narrowly missing out on dipping into the 1m39s bracket.

Bianchi’s day was spent largely concentrating on aerodynamic work for Ferrari, with the team sporting an unusual sensor appendage on the left-hand side of the F150° to monitor air flow and downforce.

Red Bull Racing Ferrari
The test session also gives the teams a rare opportunity to assess the aero performance of their cars. Red Bull ran a flexing sensor mechanism on its front wing (left), while Ferrari brought this ugly aero sensor (right).

An impressive third-quickest, albeit over two seconds off Vergne’s best effort, was Canadian driver Robert Wickens, who drove for the Renault team today as a prize for winning the Formula Renault 3.5 championship. Wickens will drive later in this test session for Virgin Racing, courtesy of his relationship with the team’s leading investor, Marussia sports cars.

Swiss GP2 driver Fabio Leimer finished the day fourth-quickest and best-placed of the newcomer drivers in the Sauber. His best lap time was some six-tenths of a second faster than McLaren’s regular test driver Gary Paffett, who shared his day’s running with Oliver Turvey (who was eigth-fastest).

GP2 driver Max Chilton had his first circuit outing for Force India and went sixth-fastest, clocking his fastest lap on his final tour to finish up just a tenth slower than Paffett.

Williams’ long-term reserve driver Valtteri Bottas was also making his circuit debut in a Formula 1 car. He lost several hours’ running with a gearbox problem, but still managed to clock up a total of 71 laps in the FW33 to finish one-tenth slower than Paffett.

With Turvey going eighth-quickest, Mercedes GP reserve driver Sam Bird was well down the order in ninth, over 3.5 seconds slower than Vergne’s quickest effort of the day.

Williams experimented with upward-facing exhausts, a feature that will become mandatory in the 2012 rules.

Half a second slower than Bird was Team Lotus returnee Rodolfo González, who clocked up the most laps of the day (87) along with Monegasque driver Stefano Coletti in the Toro Rosso, who was some 1.2 seconds off the Colombian’s pace.

HRT brought GP2 driver Dani Clos along for today’s running, with the Spaniard posting a best time just five-hundredths of a second slower than Coletti in his first F1 outing for two years.

Virgin Racing split its running between two drivers, and brought up the rear of the timesheets today. Having performed some straight-line tests for the team previously, Adrian Quaife-Hobbs ran during the poorer conditions in the morning, and was predictably slowest of all.

Frenchman Charles Pic – hotly tipped to be announced in the team’s racing line-up next year – took over for the afternoon, with his lap times coming off a sequence of short runs as he familiarised himself with the car. He will return to action for a full day’s running tomorrow.



2011 Abu Dhabi ‘Young Drivers’ Test – Day 1 Times:

Driver Team Time Laps
1. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Red Bull Renault RB7 1:40.011 83
2. Jules Bianchi FRA Ferrari F150° Italia 1:40.960 85
3. Robert Wickens CDN Renault R31 1:42.217 78
4. Fabio Leimer SUI Sauber Ferrari C30 1:42.331 67
5. Gary Paffett GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 1:42.912 41
6. Max Chilton GBR Force India Mercedes VJM04 1:43.016 81
7. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams Cosworth FW33 1:43.118 71
8. Oliver Turvey GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-26 1:43.502 35
9. Sam Bird GBR Mercedes GP W02 1:43.548 51
10. Rodolfo González VEN Lotus Renault T128 1:44.022 87
11. Stefano Coletti MON Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6 1:45.278 87
12. Dani Clos ESP HRT F1 Cosworth F111 1:45.329 68
13. Charles Pic FRA Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 1:46.930 30
14. Adrian Quaife-Hobbs GBR Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02 1:47.292 32

[Images via Sutton Images]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.