Jenson Button insisted he was quite content with his first day in his new McLaren in testing here yesterday, even though he was 1.4 seconds slower than pacesetter Fernando Alonso who went home "cautiously happy" after dominating for Ferrari.
The Spaniard's first pukka appearance for the Scuderia triggered traffic queues as an estimated crowd of 40,000 fans flocked to the Autodromo Ricardo Tormo to see their hero set the fastest time of the three-day test. Alonso eclipsed team-mate Felipe Massa's best of 1min 11.722sec from the previous day, with 1:11.470.
Button's first runs in his new McLaren did not set the track alight. After an initial three-lap sortie he spent more than an hour and a half in the pits while the team honed his comfort and position in the cockpit. Later he did another 79 laps in a series of long runs intended to establish a set-up and balance that suited him, with a best time of 1:12.951 which was only fifth fastest.
Button said: "Initially it wasn't quite where I wanted it to be, I was sitting quite high in the car. But this test was always to get used to the environment inside the cockpit, and working with the team. I have got good visibility now. I am nice and low which is good."
Looking at the lap times, he added: "I think you can say that Ferrari are fast, but we don't know how fast. You never know what fuel they are running. This is the wrong place for us to be thinking about who is quick and who isn't. You could be running 10kg or 160kg [of fuel], so there is a massive difference and it is difficult to read much into it. At the next test [in Jerez] we might have more of an understanding. Then you can work out who is quick and who isn't. At the moment it is important for us to put our blinkers on and work with our car and improve it."
Michael Schumacher's Mercedes was a second shy of Alonso, in third place behind Pedro de la Rosa's BMW Sauber, but his day ended prematurely with a hydraulic leak. After completing 82 laps the German said: "I'm thinking we will be competitive, but whether this is a winning car straight away or not, that's another story. For me that's not so important – it's a long season. I wouldn't expect to be winning right from the beginning."
Richard Branson's Virgin team became the first of 2010's newcomers to get their programme off the ground, though there was a measure of embarrassment when gremlins beset the planned all-digital launch of the world's first all-digital F1 car, which has been designed using computational fluid dynamics mathematical modelling rather than in a wind tunnel.
"When you see what the existing teams have achieved using the conventional but proven design approach, it is unsurprising that there is a great deal of scepticism about our all-CFD approach," designer Nick Wirth said. "But we are competing in a sport that is undergoing significant change having come face to face with today's harsh economic realities."
Branson said: "I'm sure we will be measured by how fast the car is on the track in Jerez next week, but I hope that doesn't overshadow the far bigger achievement of pulling an entire racing team together and taking a brave step that defies convention."