|A happy Kimi Raikkonen after topping practice on Friday|
In the weeks leading up to this weekend, the brand new Valencia street circuit has been compared to Monaco and Canada and the first day of practice did indeed highlight some similarities: the harbor setting of the Principality, the dusty track conditions of Montreal, but one unexpected factor was that the heat and humidity in the pit garages approached that usually experienced at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
With the trucks parked undercover in what used to be a fish market, the hot air generated by the cars and equipment stays trapped inside, making it a tough working day for the mechanics. As for the drivers, having their first ever real laps of a circuit most of them had only seen on simulators in the factory, the general consensus is that this brand new street circuit is a success, partly because it has managed to include some fast sections and generous run-off areas at key points.
Kimi Raikkonen had the honor of setting the fastest time of the day on this very first running at the Valencia street circuit, taking his Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F2008 round the track in a time of 1.39.477.
|Raikkonen at speed on a quiet Friday|
It's an optimistic start to the weekend for the Finn who last won a grand prix when the championship came to Spain for the first time this year in May for the race in Barcelona. Second fastest was the man that all the crowds are here to see, Renault's Fernando Alonso.
A surprising third fastest this afternoon was Jenson Button in the Honda, who lapped just 0.132 seconds faster than Ferrari's Felipe Massa in fourth place. Completing the top six were the two McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen in that order. Despite the dusty track the Ferrari duo nevertheless completed 54 laps in the morning - 27 a piece and 61 in the afternoon, with the Finn doing 30 and the Brazilian one more.
The track conditions improved very rapidly during the day and we can expect to see lap times come down significantly in tomorrow morning's final hour of free practice before the excitement of the first ever Valencia qualifying session in the afternoon.
The Toro Rosso team, which sat atop the charts in practice 1, did a good job of cleaning the dusty street circuit for everyone else and in practice 2 resumed their place towards the back of the grid.
With more rubber being laid down with each session, today's times are probably meaningless.
Note: Track temperature was at a very warm 40 degrees at the start of this second ninety minute free session that saw Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld take to the track as soon as pitlane went green. Suddenly a spectator ran onto the track at turn ten, but police swiftly remove the nut case.
A promising opening salvo for the Italian team on Friday; Felipe Massa was beaten to the morning top-spot only by a showboating Toro Rosso, before Kimi Raikkonen recorded the fastest lap of the day in the second 90-minute session. "It is far too early to say where we are compared to the opposition," said the Finn.
A low-profile morning, but home hero Fernando Alonso was pipped to the fastest lap of the day by Raikkonen by only the barest of margins in the afternoon session. "It is difficult to understand too much about our situation relative to the others," said engineering boss Pat Symonds. Nelson Piquet's deficit to the former world champion was 7 tenths in the morning and almost a full second in the afternoon.
On super-soft Bridgestones, Jenson Button recorded the third best time of the day late in the afternoon session. "Hopefully we can further improve the car overnight and be reasonably competitive for qualifying tomorrow," he said. In absolute contrast, Rubens Barrichello was the slowest runner of all in the same session. "I'm confident that we can get back on the pace for qualifying tomorrow," said the Brazilian.
Despite a recent run of form, the McLarens - led in pace as usual by Lewis Hamilton - spent Friday out of the limelight, as the pair achieved just the 5th and 6th fastest times in the quicker afternoon session. "We're in pretty good shape," said championship leader Hamilton.
Timo Glock, who finished on the podium three weeks ago in Hungary, ended the first day of practice promisingly with the 7th best time. Jarno Trulli struggled with balance and only just pegged the deficit to his teammate below the one second mark. "That was not a particularly good day for me," he confirmed.
Nick Heidfeld seems to be struggling; his deficit to teammate Robert Kubica was a full second per lap both in the morning and again in the afternoon. "I'm not happy with the lap times yet," the German confirmed. The highlight of Kubica's Friday was his morning P6.
Force India's Friday, to be the race-debut of the new seamless shift gearbox, is difficult to analyze; when Giancarlo Fisichella was slow in the morning, Adrian Sutil was P13. And when Sutil ended the day 17th, Fisichella was just a second off the ultimate pace.
A low-profile start to the weekend for Red Bull, with Mark Webber's P11 in the afternoon the highlight, following an uncompetitive morning for both RB4s. "We're not as quick as we'd like to be," the Australian admitted. David Coulthard was the first F1 driver to hit the barriers as he ended his morning with a gentle impact.
Nico Rosberg, who nearly took out Webber with the afternoon session's most spectacular spin, went into the weekend predicting his FW30 would suit the virginal 25-corner layout. He ended the afternoon session heading the British team's charge with the 12th fastest time.
With new tires fitted, Sebastian Vettel stunned the timesheets with the coveted P1 at the end of the morning session, with teammate Sebastian Vettel highlighting the achievement by netting the fourth fastest time. The STRs then tumbled down the afternoon order, ultimately only securing P16 (Vettel) and 19. "Now it will be interesting to analyze what we have done and see what the others did," said the German.