It was a day of differing but equally satisfactory comebacks, with Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher setting the pace as the first Formula One test of the season got under way in Valencia yesterday. The Brazilian demonstrated convincingly that he has lost none of his speed since the accident that befell him in Hungary last July, by setting the fastest time for Ferrari, while Schumacher laid down a marker with third fastest time, driving for the newly renamed Mercedes team.
The two famous marques were joined by McLaren, BMW Sauber, Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso.
Massa and Schumacher – who was set to stand in for the Brazilian at Ferrari last year but was sidelined by a neck injury – were unsurprisingly the main attractions as they made their different kinds of comeback, with their respective laps of 1m 12.574s and 1m 12.947s, but the surprise of the day was the speed of Pedro de la Rosa in the new BMW Sauber C29 (which despite its name uses a Ferrari V8). The Spaniard, back in a race seat after fulfilling a test role for McLaren since 2003, was fastest on 1min 12.784sec, until Massa put in a late spurt to move back ahead.
Testing times are notoriously difficult to judge, since much depends on the fuel load carried, the type of tyre being run, and other factors such as the time of the day in which the times were set. But predictably Ferrari, Sauber and Mercedes were happy.
Massa, who covered 102 laps during the day, said: "I am very happy not just to be back in the latest F1 car, but also to feel that the new F10 is an improvement that has much to offer us."
Schumacher wore his customary smile for most of the day as he and his team-mate Nico Rosberg put the first laps on the new Mercedes MGP W01, which had been revealed for the first time in the morning. Rosberg recorded a best of 1min 13.543sec during his 39 morning laps, and Schumacher was clearly pleased to finish the day in front of the younger German even if his 40 laps came when track conditions were better.
"It was a perfect rollout for the new car today," he reported. "I felt totally comfortable and really had a feeling that everything was very natural. It felt just like at the very beginning of my career in 1991 when on the first lap, I thought, 'Wow that was really fast,' and then on the second lap, I was just extremely excited. I feel like a young boy again and really enjoyed myself out there. We did a good job today, just making a few control checks, and the most important thing was that the car ran reliably. With Nico and I covering 79 laps between us, it was a superb job by the team."
McLaren's dramatic new contender was only fifth fastest, more than a second off Massa's time, but the test driver Gary Paffett was clearly under instructions just to shake down the MP4-25 and leave the heroics to Jenson Button when the world champion gets his first run in it tomorrow. Lewis Hamilton will drive today. It was an uneventful day, bar one red flag when Rubens Barrichello's new Williams stopped out on the track. The Brazilian was sixth fastest ahead of Sébastien Buemi's Toro Rosso and Robert Kubica's Renault.
Red Bull and Force India will not test this week, nor will the four new teams: Lotus, Campos Meta 1, Virgin or USF1. Force India are expected to name Scottish racer Paul di Resta as their reserve driver tomorrow, however, backing Tonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil.
The number of laps completed by the returning Michael Schumacher for Mercedes yesterday.