USGP notebook American Scott Speed and the rest of the drivers have wrapped up the final major winter test sessions before the 2007 Formula One season that begins March 18 in Australia and includes the United States Grand Prix on June 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Nine of the 11 F1 teams, including Speed's team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, tested at the Bahrain F1 track during two three-day sessions (Feb. 22-24 and Feb. 27-March 1.)
AT&T Williams-Toyota and Spyker-Ferrari tested Feb. 27-March 1 at Spain's Barcelona circuit.
"There is still a lot of work to do," Speed said after his first runs in the 2007 Ferrari-powered STR2, "and even if we will struggle at the beginning of the season, I'm really confident we will make a big step forward this year. We have got a good package - we just have to get the best out of it."
California native Speed, the only American driver in F1, spent his rookie season with Toro Rosso last year. He once again teams up with Tonio Liuzzi.
Speed ended up ninth quickest overall, at 1 minute, 31.500 seconds, in the rankings of the 24 drivers who took part in the six days of testing at Bahrain. Liuzzi was 18th at 1:32.359. Speed was quicker than Grand Prix winners David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli.
"This was a shakedown for us," Toro Rosso Chief Engineer Laurent Mekies said, "and every day, more and more parts have arrived here from the factory, which have helped us to improve reliability and performance. It really kept our guys busy, and they worked very hard.
"Looking at the final day's performance (from Speed) especially, with a respectable lap time and 125 laps, it is clear we are working in the right direction even if there is a lot to do."
The top five: Exact comparisons of the actual performance and speeds of the various cars are difficult in testing because the teams are running different fuel loads and a mixture of development programs. Still, the final multi-car test gave some indication of who will be quick this year. The top five teams in terms of lap times in Bahrain: Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, ING Renault, BMW Sauber, Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes and Honda.
With Williams and Spyker not testing in Bahrain, it is not easy to predict where they fit into the mix.
Ferrari quickest: Five-time United States Grand Prix winner and seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher may have retired after a decade at Ferrari, but his former team has lost none of its speed.
Felipe Massa turned the best lap times in each of the final three days of the Bahrain test, and he set an unofficial lap record of 1 minute, 29.989 seconds. He and his new Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, tried out the latest aerodynamic bodywork for the F2007 chassis. Raikkonen was fifth quickest overall at 1:30.534.
"At the moment, it looks like we are quite strong with a good package," Massa said. "Hopefully it will stay like this."
Ferrari has won six of the seven United States Grand Prix races staged at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rookie second: Heikki Kovalainen, the Finnish rookie who replaced Fernando Alonso at ING Renault, posted the second-best time of the test, 1:30.384. His teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, wound up fourth at 1:30.498.
"We have concluded our preseason test program on an encouraging note," said Renault Chief Test Engineer Christian Silk. "Both drivers completed their programs and demonstrated promising performance.
"It has been a long, demanding winter for the whole team, and we are now looking forward to see how the R27 performs in race conditions. We have a competitive package, and we are feeling confident, but we will be working hard through the rest of the season to develop and improve the car."
BMW Sauber impressive: Nick Heidfeld ended up with the third-quickest time, 1:30.469, in his BMW Sauber. His teammate, Poland's Robert Kubica, was 10th at 1:31.571.
"The double test in Bahrain was particularly important because of the consistent weather conditions," said Technical Director Willy Rampf. "We were able to confirm the cooling system and to test the tire characteristics in high track temperatures. And we were able to test the entire car under conditions which will be similar to those we expect for the first three races."
McLaren rookie settles in: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes' rookie driver Lewis Hamilton said preparation for his Formula One debut in Australia is on target.
"The testing has gone very well," he said, "and I think I have adapted to the team quite well. We have done a lot of work in the last three months to prepare me for the first race.
"The race is another new thing to me. I have to learn a lot. It has been intense, but we will see in the first race. It is the beginning of another steep learning curve for me."
Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, who switched from Renault to McLaren this season, turned the sixth best time overall at 1:30.564 while Hamilton was eighth at 1:31.094.
Honda seventh: 2002 United States Grand Prix winner Rubens Barrichello clocked the seventh best time overall, 1:31.067, in his Honda.
"The test has gone well this week," he said. "I have been able to complete some good long-distance running with the car, and the reliability is there, which is positive.
"It is difficult to predict where we are in relation to the other teams, and although I am comfortable with our results, we do still have some development work to achieve. I am really looking forward to the start of the season, as I feel very much at home with the team and the car this year. We can do a good job together."
Jenson Button was 14th in the other Honda at 1:31.807.
Honda's New Llivery: To help raise awareness of the environmental issues facing the planet, the livery on Honda's RA107 F1 car features a huge image of Earth in place of the advertising and sponsor logos that have been on all other F1 cars for decades.
The Honda Racing F1 Team will work closely with global environmental charities to develop Honda's existing environmental programs within Formula One.
"We at Honda F1 are proud to dedicate our car to the environmental challenge," said team CEO Nick Fry. "We believe that practical solutions can stem directly from engineers working on our F1 program. They are working harder than ever to achieve our dreams and win the World Championship while embracing and underscoring Honda's environmental ethos."
Red Bull struggles: Red Bull Racing teammates David Coulthard and Mark Webber made it into the top dozen with the 11th and 12th quickest times, respectively.
The Renault-powered RB3, designed by Adrian Newey, had some teething problems.
"The test has not been trouble free and a few elements still need fixing, but we have made some progress," said Team Principal Christian Horner.
Forward steps for Toyota: Driver Ralf Schumacher, 13th overall at 1:31.791, said the Panasonic Toyota team is making progress.
"It has been a pretty successful test," he said. "We looked at a few different areas, and I think we have made some important steps forward. Obviously we have some issues to sort out, but we will work hard at that next week and then off we go to lovely Melbourne."
2005 United States Grand Prix pole winner Jarno Trulli had a variety of mechanical woes and ended up 22nd at 1:33.062 in the other Toyota.
Super Aguri collects data: Super Aguri is the only team still running its 2006 car. It used the Bahrain test to collect aerodynamic, tire and other data for the 2007 car that's in its final stages of construction.
"It was another productive test for us," said Takuma Sato, who finished third in the 2004 United States Grand Prix. "We tried various setups and made good progress and improvements. We still have a lot of work to do, but we have completed some good preparation work and have a good understanding of the Bridgestone Potenza tires."
Williams works: Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 World Champion and former United States Grand Prix winner Keke Rosberg, topped the times at the Barcelona test in the new Williams-Toyota FW29.
"Thanks are due to the factory and the race and test team for all of the hard work that has been done over the last few months and has progressed the cars to this stage," said Test Team Manager Dickie Stanford.
Spyker improving: Rookie Adrian Sutil, who teams up with Christijan Albers at Spyker this season, said they are making progress with the new Ferrari-powered F8-VII car.
"We found some small improvements, but we still have to work on getting a good balance," Sutil said at the conclusion of the Barcelona test. "We have had three good days, though, and I've done a lot of mileage. I'm really looking forward to my first race weekend now."
Final shakedown: Some of the teams will give their new cars a final, brief shakedown in Europe before shipping them to Australia for the first of this season's 17 races.
2007 USGP tickets: Reserved Race Day and three-day "Season Passes" for the 2007 United States Grand Prix, June 15-17, are on sale to all customers.
Ticket information can be found any time at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-4639 or (317) 492-6700. Ticket Office hours are from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.