F1 practice in Spain: Jenson goes fastest

There’s something about a racing car in the sunshine and, for those with nothing better to do and a Sky subscription, there’s been plenty of that on the airwaves today. F1 cars are back in Europe in all their bonkers, curvy, pointy, aero beauty. And, for once, it seems the teams are finding it as hard to make sense of all those wind and exhaust-blown twists and turns as you and us. How can anything be that complex? More than ever, F1 cars are the spaceships of the modern age.

High noses/low noses, holes in the floor/no holes in the floor, Double-DRS or not… Nobody is quite sure yet what the best route is to regaining the downforce lost by this season’s ‘ban’ on exhaust blown diffusers. If you have time to follow it, and hunt elsewhere on the internet for the explanations of those more scientifically minded than us on the Sunday Afternoon Club, then it’s absolutely fascinating.

All the wind tunnel time, the simulator hours, all the teraflops of CFD, all the boxes of 2H pencils Adrian Newey could ever dream of: none of it will necessarily make an F1 car faster without a test pilot to take the controls and push it all the way. We love it.

And there was nobody pushing harder today than Fernando Alonso. Fastest in FP1 to the delight of the organisers, he’s clearly still not got the car he deserves, but that’s not going to stop him trying. The Ferrari F2012 is now very different around the rear and the nose, which Ferrari went to great lengths to hide from the cameras, but it still needs hustling.

On the same hard tyres Alonso used in the morning, the high-nose McLaren — the most different of all the B-spec cars — didn’t seem to respond well either to Lewis Hamilton’s hustling or Jenson Button’s gentle encouragement. In the afternoon on soft tyres it was a different story; Button topping the timesheets, but with no great sense of satisfaction. Blimey! Is this the season where McLaren start the season with a good car and gradually, through development, make it slower? We don’t know. But we don’t think McLaren do either.

Of course the one man who was able to work untroubled through his day’s programme was Sebastian Vettel, second to Alonso in FP1, second to Button in FP2. Red Bull, even with Mark Webber doing some spectacular gravel-spreading in the afternoon, looked very confident, concerned less with outright pace, more with gathering tyre data. And as we said yesterday, that might well be what winning is all about this year. Its two drivers, incidentally, continued to use different exhaust set ups.

Anyhow enough on-track. Practice is only practice, as we have said many times. Off track, there’s a slight sense of a mob gathering who want Nico Rosberg’s head on a stick. A drivers’ meeting is planned for this afternoon where its known Lewis and Jenson among others want some further clarification of what’s ‘racing’ and what’s ‘dangerous’.

We at the Sunday Afternoon Club were amazed Rosberg was able to get away with two properly lairy moves on Lewis and Fernando Alonso in Bahrain. Even Rosberg himself has admitted he would not have taken the action he did had he not been aware of the wide run-off areas. Truly? Are grand prix drivers that calculating? At that speed? We don’t know whether that’s impressive, or kind of scary. It must amuse team mate Michael Schumacher, who has in the past been the quarry of driver vigilante gangs.

We wonder what all the new boys make of the grandees’ squabble. It can’t make life any easier, especially for the ‘Friday Morning Boys’, the reserve drivers who get an unenviable opportunity to impress for 90 minutes at the start of the weekend. ‘Unenviable’ because they need to show their teams they’re quick, but absolutely the last thing they can afford to do is stack it. There were four of these super-rookies out this morning; local-boy Dani Clos in the hopeless-but-really-very-pretty HRT;  Ferrari-academy inductee Jules Bianchi in the Force India; American Alexander Rossi in the Caterham; and, impressively, the amusingly named (sorry, we’re all teenagers-at-heart in the Sunday Afternoon Club) Valttieri Bottas in the Williams who ended FP1 in fifth, less than seven-tenths off Alsono’s pace.

They’ll all be back in civvies come qualifying tomorrow, thankful to have not made anyone’s weekend any more confusing than it already is. Predictions? Well, even after this morning’s problems, we reckon the McLarens are still looking pretty fast. But it will be close. Again.

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