One week after a four day test session at the Circuit de Catalunya, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro were back in action along with the other ten teams, as practice began for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix, Round 4 of the Formula 1 World Championship.
In the morning, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were first and second respectively, the Brazilian surviving two "interesting" spins along the way. At the end of the second ninety minute session, the Finn maintained his place at the top of the time sheet, while the Brazilian ended the day fifth fastest. Second fastest was Nelson Piquet Jnr in the Renault ahead of double world champion and team-mate Fernando Alonso. Fourth place went to the Williams-Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima. Rounding off the top six behind Massa was Mark Webber in the Red Bull-Renault.
Kimi completed a total of 55 laps today, while Felipe did 41, on a day when the air temperature was in the mid-twenties, the sun was shining and the wind, often a problem at this track, did not cause too many problems. It is a common question as to why the teams still feel the need to run many laps on Friday, so soon after a four day test. While it is true that maybe drivers do slightly less distance than usual - Felipe's low number of laps in the morning was due to him not wanting to use a new set of tires after his spin - the circuit conditions change rapidly here, so results from a test often only serve as a baseline. From that starting point, drivers still need to put their cars out on track, to evaluate grip levels, wind conditions and so on. The aim is to fine tune the car, moving forward in performance and consistency terms from the work done at the test session. Kimi had a further reason to do a few more laps in that, as he explained yesterday, he never really got a chance to try the new "nose with the hole" at the test, as the one day he was running on track, the rain washed out any meaningful testing on dry weather tires.
Kimi Raikkonen at Barcelona is the man of the moment; the quickest driver at the wheel of the quickest car. Felipe Massa - who turned 27 today - was close in the morning, but he made a few too many mistakes.
Both cars were in the top seven in the morning, and the top three in the afternoon, with Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet incredibly closely matched for pace. But engineering chief Pat Symonds warned: "Friday does not necessarily represent the complete picture."
A promising showing, with both runners inside the afternoon top seven, and Kazuki Nakajima conspicuous in fourth.
Mark Webber is hopeful of making Q3 after going sixth quickest in the afternoon session. David Coulthard was eighth best in both 90 minute practices.
Preparations for qualifying propelled both Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil respectively inside the top ten. "I think we are a lot more competitive than we expected to be," said technical boss Mike Gascoyne.
A bad day for Heikki Kovalainen; off Lewis Hamilton's pace in the morning, a rear-end change in the break, and finally stranded beside the circuit with a throttle problem after just eight laps in the afternoon. Hamilton was third in the morning but eleventh at the end of the second 90 minute session. "There was too much oversteer and we tried a lot of different things to improve but didn't make the progress we wanted," he said.
Neither driver shone in the afternoon, as they concentrated on race setup. Robert Kubica again appears to have the edge over Nick Heidfeld, and his best showing was fourth in the morning session.
Not a good day for the Japanese team, with Timo Glock only managing to outpace the slow Super Aguris in the afternoon despite putting in a lot of laps. "I don't think it is as bad as the timesheets show today," cautioned chief engineer Dieter Gass.
With the now horn-nosed RA108, Honda's drivers settled near the bottom of the midfield, with Jenson Button's morning tenth place the highlight of the three hours of practice.
Near-identical pace from both drivers, with Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais between eighteenth and twentieth in both ninety minute sessions. "Everyone has made big steps forward with their newer cars," Bourdais lamented.
On Friday afternoon, less than nine tenths covered the top twelve runners, but - right at the back - Super Aguri's car is more than a full second slower than its nearest rival. At least the struggling team was in action at the end of a dire week. "I'd like to thank everyone involved with the team for their steadfastness and resolve during difficult times," said sporting boss Graham Taylor.