2013 Spanish GP, Practice One: Fernando Alonso heads Ferrari 1-2 on drying track
Updates galore among top teams as Euro season gets underway
By James Galloway in Barcelona. Last Updated: 10/05/13 11:38am
The eagerly-anticipated start of Formula 1's European season, and the first round proper of 2013's development war, got off to an unseasonably damp start at the Circuit de Catalunya in Practice One - although that didn't stop local hero Fernando Alonso from topping the timesheet.
Teams had used the preceding three weeks to finalise their first major upgrade packages of the season but early-morning rain at what had been a sultry Barcelona in the days leading up to Friday initially led many - particularly McLaren - to take a more cautious approach to the session than they might have done otherwise. However, conditions improved enough for slick tyres late into the 90 minutes of running.
With grip levels therefore improving all the while, the head of the timesheet shuffled to a mind-boggling degree over the final few minutes as a host of drivers set successive fastest times.
But when the music did finally stop it was Ferrari that found both of their cars at the very head of the order, with Alonso two tenths faster than team-mate Felipe Massa with a lap of 1:25.252s.
Massa, however, was the one running updates on his F138 including new sidepod wings, updated front wing plus more sculpted, undercut sidepods.
Jean-Eric Vergne, having been just about the only driver to make use of Pirelli's new prototype compound earlier on, wound up third ahead of Lotus's Romain Grosjean and Force India's Adrian Sutil.
Lewis Hamilton took sixth for Mercedes with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber down in unfamilair 19th and 20th places respectively after not completing any representative times when the track was at its driest.
The changeable conditions made what is usually a fairly academic P1 timesheet almost obsolete, with the main focus of paddock attention squarely on the upgrades brought by the top teams to their respective cars for this weekend.
After a trying start to 2013, McLaren's development work in the break has been the most frenzied. But despite using up one of their 'jokers' in breaking a curfew on Thursday night, the team opted to keep their powder dry - Jenson Button and Sergio Perez completing just six laps apiece.
In the words of Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz they were "not throwing everything at the car in this first practice session" - the first round of updates added to the MP4-28 including revised tower bargeboard winglets and brake ducts.
World Champions and 2013 pacesetters Red Bull, meanwhile, spent the early wet phase of the session running with a giant airflow measuring device on the left-hand side of Vettel's rear suspension, with the RB9 believed to feature a new rear-wing endplate and, potentially, diffuser.
Meanwhile, Lotus's changes included new sidepod winglets, a tweaked diffuser, rear wing upper element and endplates, as well as brake ducts.
However, given the conditions and the prospect of further car changes to come in the break before P2, teams are only likely to have made the tiniest of scratches to the surface of their respective developments.
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle agreed that the opening session of the weekend had given very little, if anything, away.
"The fastest time has 3.5s off last year's pole position," he pointed out. "The track came quite close to being fully slick - tantalisingly close in that respect - but we learnt next to nothing did we? They had their various devices on, collecting data and trying to understand the airflow and the downforce levels.
"That was a wholly frustrating session."