In Abu Dhabi two-and-a-half months ago, he made history by becoming the youngest-ever F1 World Champion, and as testing ahead of the 2011 campaign revved into life in Valencia today (Tuesday), Sebastian Vettel fully justified that billing by again topping the timing screens for Red Bull Racing.
On the day that Adrian Newey's RB7 baby was launched to the watching world, Vettel successfully completed 93 laps of the 4km Circuit Ricardo Tormo, with a best effort just under two tenths clear of his nearest rival. For a team more used to debuting at the second test session in recent years, it was an ominous marker.
“It was good today and I felt comfortable in the car,” the German affirmed. “I enjoyed it. It was day one for most of us, and there's a long way to go with testing ahead of the season and a very long racing season after that – with 20 races – so things can change! We've only made the first step today, but we had a reliable day and can be very proud of what we have achieved so far.”
“We had a very good shakedown with the RB7 today and completed everything we aimed to on day one,” concurred Red Bull head of race engineering, Ian Morgan. “It's an encouraging start to what we hope will be a successful season for the RB7.”
Trailing behind in the pace stakes – as, indeed, was the case for most of 2010 – were anticipated title adversaries McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari. Loyal long-time test driver Gary Paffett placed third for the Woking-based outfit in last year's MP4-25 – with its MP4-26 successor set to be officially unveiled in Berlin on Friday – as the British ace made the most of the warm, dry weather and focussed his efforts on Pirelli tyre development before countryman Lewis Hamilton takes over on day two.
“The car we ran today ought to allow us to get the right loadings on the Pirellis to understand how they behave,” the former DTM Champion revealed. “The tyres have changed since we last ran them in Abu Dhabi last year, and they'll change again before the start of the season.
“Today was about trying to understand the tyres – we established a good baseline and then did some long runs. Happily, the wear issues we experienced in Abu Dhabi have definitely improved; we saw better wear patterns and fewer problems with the tyres.
“It's useful to understand how the tyres go off, and how the balance changes once they do. The medium seems to last the longest and the super-soft the shortest, but that's exactly what you want from a tyre – and it should lead to different strategies once we start racing.”
Having led the way early on, Fernando Alonso was ultimately forced to settle for just the fifth-fastest time for Ferrari, with the Spaniard concentrating on general aerodynamic development for the recently-launched F150 and on gaining further understanding of the Pirelli rubber. At the end of 98 trouble-free laps, the Scuderia
reported positive progress, and Alonso will remain at the wheel on Wednesday.
To see the testing times in full, click here