The test was marred by ugly scenes as some of the spectators that showed up hurled racist taunts and abuse at Lewis Hamilton.
And for Williams the test was spoiled by a mechanical failure, causing a high speed accident for Kazuki Nakajima. Meanwhile Red Bull developed a promise if unusual-looking new aerodynamic development.
Having seemed short on pace in the Valencia test, BMW seemed closer to their 2007 role of ‘best of the rest’ at Catalunya. Their positions on the times sheets over the three days were third and fifth, fifth and ninth, fourth and sixth.
Throughout the test the drivers indicated that the car’s balance felt better. Nick Heidfeld had a spin on Sunday and Autosport reported that Kubica had a car failure on Saturday – but BMW did not confirm it. The three race drivers handled all the testing, but BMW announced its test drivers for this year will be ex-Honda driver Christian Klien and last year’s British F3 champion Marko Asmer.
Renault also had both their drivers on-track for all three days of the test. The team gave the R28 its official launch on Thursday, when Fernando Alonso described the gap between them and the leading teams as, “one second or eight tenths,” but on the face of it that seems to be a pessimistic assessment.
Over the three days he was six-tenths slower than Hamilton’s McLaren on the first day, 1.3s slower than Sebastian Vettel on the second day, and just over one tenth slower than Mark Webber on the third day.
The team had a pair of R28s running for the first time and Piquet was half a second down on Alonso on the first and third days, and all-but matching him on the second. He had a couple of mechanicals problems on the first day, did long runs on Saturday (racking up 115 laps, like Alonso), and like most of the other drivers was held up by the wet weather on Sunday.
The team tried some new parts on Friday that had been developed following the Valencia test. Christian Silk proclaimed himself happy with the weekend’s work: “three good days, and I’m happy with the way the cars have run,” and Alonso echoed the sentiment: “every day I am happier with the car.”
Apart from the Hamilton affair the biggest story of testing was Williams abandoning their programme on the second day. This followed Kazuki Nakajima’s crash on Friday which was caused by a front wing mounting failure on the new FW30.
Fresh parts were flown out for Saturday in Frank Williams’ private jet, but the team were not happy with the fix. Sam Michael explained:
We had some issues with the wing, which we could not resolve during this test at short notice. We have decided to return to the factory, so we can put in place a solid solution for the Jerez test in a week’s time.
It is not the first time the fast but bumpy Circuit de Catalunya has provoked wing failure in a car. Minardi withdrew from the 2002 race when their cars suffered wing problems.
It was a major blow for the team after their strong showing at Valencia last week when they showed both pace and reliability. Nakajima, who was unhurt in the accident, said:
It was a 180 degree turn from the good test of Valencia. When I went out the first time (with the modified wing) it took a long time to warm up the tyres and there was not enough grip, and Nico also expressed the same views. I think we need to relook at the issues back in the UK and prepare for Jerez.
It was Red Bull’s turn to run some eye-catching parts on their car this week, with Mark Webber taking to the circuit on Friday in an RB4 with an unusually extended engine cover. The rear fin is designed to aid stability under braking.
Webber ended the day fractionally slower than team mate David Coulthard, the pair 10th and 11th overall. But they showed signs of good pace towards the end of the week, Webber fastest of all on the final day, still running with the rear fin. Coulthard also tested the new arrangement, and had some car problems on Saturday.
It was the first time the team had run two 2008-specification chassis in testing.
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Toro Rosso continued their promising form with their interim 2007 car (dubbed STR2B) by topping the times on Saturday – Sebastian Vettel setting a 1’21.679 during a qualifying simulation, with team mate Sebastien Bourdais just over a tenth of a second behind.
On the other two days the cars looked fairly swift, within a second of the leaders, and above all reliable. They seem to stand a good chance of picking up points early in the season if some of the teams with new cars run into trouble.
Vettel tested new brake materials on Friday while Bourdais tried new suspension and did a race weekend simulation including pit stops to help him adjust to the differences between F1 and Champ Car. Both drivers did more work on suspension on Sunday and used the rain as an opportunity to test wet weather tyres.
Can it really be that Honda have delivered a turkey of a car for a second year in succession? Astonishingly it looks as though they have. The team’s cars were among the three slowest on every day of the test. The curse of the Earth Car lingers on – Ross Brawn and the team have a huge job on their hands.
The RA108 proved not only slow, but also unreliable, with Button stopping with steering problems on Saturday.
Force India F1 Team
We did some runs to work on set-up and looked at some parts to improve reliability and had no big problems over the day. I felt more comfortable in the car too – we are definitely going in the right direction and the times were pretty good. I’m very happy as we’re showing the potential we have now.
Apart from the unpleasant jeering directed at Hamilton McLaren had a positive test, consistently the strongest team in the absence of Ferrari.
Hamilton was fastest on Friday, his 1’22.263 over six-tenths faster than second placed Alonso. Gary Paffett had his first test in the MP4/23 which was also his first run without driver aids – he spun twice and had one technical failure, ending the day one second slower than Hamilton.
Heikki Kovalainen took over from Paffett for the next two days, and he and Hamilton were in the top four in both sessions. Hamilton had car trouble on Saturday, and he and Kovalainen performed practice starts as well.
McLaren also confirmed that the MP4/23 had been homologated and approved for racing in 2008. The team had originally faced a wait until February 14th for an FIA hearing into whether the car was fit for use in 2008 following the spy hearing, which gives an insight into how this might have disrupted their preparation for the season.
Catalunya testing mileage, 31st January – 2nd February 2008
1 Toro Rosso – 484 laps, 2253km
2 Renault – 464 laps, 2159km
3 Red Bull – 449 laps, 2090km
4 BMW Sauber – 447 laps, 2080km
5 McLaren – 441 laps, 2052km
6 Honda – 309 laps, 1438km
7 Spyker – 247 laps, 1149km
8 Williams – 121 laps, 563km
More 2008 F1 testing reports