Lewis Hamilton had his first taste here yesterday of the McLaren he hopes will carry him to the world championship this season, and pronounced himself satisfied.
"It was a night-and-day difference in feeling compared to the first lap and the first test day in 2009," he said. "I have a positive feeling. I've obviously kept a close eye on the development of the car and the results we got at the end of 2009 – so seeing it evolve and having input into it, I was very excited to get in today to see what parts we have improved. Hopefully we would have got rid of a lot of the bugs that we had in the previous car.
"It felt good. I got out smiling and all the problems I had with the last car I didn't have with this one. There are still areas we can improve on."
Hamilton said the feel he got from the MP4-25 was exactly what he would want from first acquaintance with a new car. "It's gone well," he said. "Obviously the Ferrari seems very quick, and so does the Sauber. But we don't know what fuel loads everyone else was on. We felt quite comfortable with what we were doing, but there is quite a bit of time we need to find."
Felipe Massa continued to set the pace for Ferrari with a best lap of 1 minute 11.722 seconds, and Japan's Kamui Kobayashi kept BMW Sauber in the limelight with the second fastest time of 1min 12.056sec, both setting their laps early before focusing on long-distance running.
Hamilton ended the day third on 1min 12.256sec, ahead of Renault's Robert Kubica on 1min 12.426sec, both setting their times late in the afternoon. Possible improvements at the very end of the day were thwarted when the Pole's car ground to a halt opposite the pits and resulted in the red flag being brought out.
Reigning world champion Jenson Button will take over McLaren's driving duties today, when he will be joined by Fernando Alonso at Ferrari and Michael Schumacher will be back at Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Force India confirmed 23-year-old Paul di Resta from West Lothian as their test and reserve driver alongside Tonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil. Di Resta, cousin of Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL champion Dario Franchitti, impressed during testing for the team in Jerez in November, and will get a run in the new Force India VJM03 at the same track next week.
The Scot is expected to replace Sutil in the team from 2011, and Force India will exploit a loophole in the regulations to give him greater experience by running him in place of one of the race drivers in some Friday sessions.
"Our choice was to take an experienced driver or to work with a young guy with potential and do something to supplement that potential with experience," said chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer. "We'll sacrifice some of the race drivers' track time so Paul can get up to speed."
"This is a fantastic opportunity, and I want to be around F1 for a long time," Di Resta said. "There's no doubt that I have big shoes to fill," he continued, alluding to Scotland's legacy of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Innes Ireland and David Coulthard, "and I want to succeed. I am fully focused on what I want to achieve, and that's to be world champion. I am going to try my best to achieve that but it's also important to enjoy the whole thing, too."
What's the point? The new scoring system for F1
From the start of the new Formula One season, the winner of each race will get 25 points, the second placed driver 18 points, and so on down to 10th place gaining a single point. Previously the winner of each race was awarded 10 points, the runner-up 8, third place 6, down to the eighth-placed driver winning a point.
The system promises to reward drivers' reliability and consistency during the season in the final table.
New system: 1st place – 25 points, 2nd – 18 pts, 3rd – 15 pts, 4th – 12 pts, 5th – 10 pts, 6th – 8 pts, 7th – 6 pts, 8th – 4 pts, 9th – 2 pts, 10th – 1 pt.
The new scoring system would not have changed the standings over the last three seasons but would have created a larger points margin between the drivers on the final table.
1. Jenson Button 244/95
2. Sebastian Vettel 206/84
3. Rubens Barrichello 196/77
4. Mark Webber 174/69.5
5. Lewis Hamilton 126/49
1. Lewis Hamilton 243/98
2. Felipe Massa 240/97
3. Kimi Raikkonen 189/75
4. Robert Kubica 186/75
5. Fernando Alonso 154/61
1. Kimi Raikkonen 272/110
2. Fernando Alonso 266/109
3. Lewis Hamilton 265/109
4. Felipe Massa 238/94
5. Nick Heidfeld 151/61