Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso shrugged off an embarrassing coming-together with BMW-Sauber rival Nick Heidfeld to delight his home fans with the fastest time at the end of the opening day of practice for this weekend's European Grand Prix in Valencia – as new rookie team-mate Romain Grosjean impressed on his debut in the top flight.
Having flirted with not competing around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo at all until the one-race suspension imposed upon Renault for the runaway wheel in Hungary was lifted by the FIA's International Court of Appeal earlier this week, Alonso celebrated in fine style.
Out of luck in the same race last year – when the Oviedo native found himself unceremoniously removed from the action by the wayward Williams of Kazuki Nakajima on only the opening tour – the 28-year-old lapped a solid ninth-quickest in the morning FP1 session. He later recovered from a broken nose cone after colliding with Heidfeld in the final corner in the afternoon – a clash that the German contended nearly caused him to roll [click here
] – to top the timing screens.
“It was a positive day for us with some good laps,” reported the 21-time grand prix-winner. “The car performed well right from the start of the first session. We worked on the set-up throughout the day and now we're pretty much happy with what we have, so I think we are in good shape for the rest of the weekend.
“The incident with Nick Heidfeld this afternoon was a normal incident that can happen during racing or free practice. For tomorrow, we will try our best to get onto the front row of the grid, with the objective of scoring points on Sunday.”
Grosjean, for his part – in his first competitive outing in the second R29 in-place of the sacked Nelsinho Piquet – made a steady start to his career at the highest level, winding up just under 1.4 seconds shy of Alonso in 13th place at the close, and ahead of such F1 luminaries as Mark Webber, Timo Glock and Lewis Hamilton...
“The day has gone pretty well,” confirmed the Swiss-born Frenchman. “Your first time in a new car is always tricky, but I did my best and having Fernando next to me meant I could see how he approached the sessions and that helped me a lot. I think today I have made good progress, and tomorrow I will aim to continue in the same way.”
“Firstly, it's very nice to be here in Valencia racing this weekend,” concluded the Régie's
executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds. “Secondly, we would like to welcome Romain to the team and I have to say I was very impressed with his progress today. He was pushing hard yet driving within himself and making steady progress. Fernando has had a strong day, too; the car looks good and we're quite happy with the way the tyres are behaving. All-in-all it has been a satisfactory Friday.”