Heikki Kovalainen has reported that the heavily revised Caterham performed much better than it had on his first outing as the team's development driver in Bahrain, but warned that, with the Barcelona weather limiting evaluation time, the true extent of its step forward would only be known over the weekend.
The Finn, who was drafted back into the Caterham line-up to provide an experienced eye for the development process, replaced Charles Pic during the first 90-minute practice session at the Circuit de Catalunya, and topped the 'division three' battle by edging team-mate Giedo van der Garde and Marussia's Jules Bianchi for 17th spot on the rain-jumbled timesheet.
Having claimed that the interim CT-03 that he drove in Bahrain did not compare to the machine he had left behind at the end of 2012, Kovalainen was pleased to report that, despite an unrelated interruption, the upgrade package – which technical director Mark Smith later confirmed brought much of the missing 70 per cent of the 2013 design – had made the car much more driveable.
"For me, that was a pretty good session, even though we lost quite a bit of time with a mechanical issue,” Kovalainen, who completed just 14 laps on a combination of the wet, intermediate and hard tyres, confirmed, “Once that was fixed, we got on with the programme and ended up only losing one run. As FP1 started with a wet track, everyone else was limiting their track time as well, so the relative loss was minimal.
“In the session, we were mainly working through back-to-back comparisons of some of the new parts we've brought here, and it was good to see that the car generally felt much better than the one I drove in Bahrain. The balance has been improved, especially mid-corner and in both low and high speed turns, so it's easier to push – but, with so few dry laps today, it's too early to tell how much we've gained from the package we have for this race.
“The rest of the weekend is supposed to be better weather, so we'll learn more about how to get the most out of the new parts in FP2 and FP3, but we'll only really find out where we are, and where everyone else is, on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday."
van der Garde and Pic continued Caterham's solid start to the weekend by sandwiching Bianchi during the dry afternoon session, although Pic's lack of track time showed as he lapped nearly a second off his rookie team-mate's pace. Van der Garde, meanwhile, confirmed Kovalainen's belief that, with the addition of new front and rear wings, a revised floor and some different bodywork parts, the car had taken a step forward since Bahrain, where it had already shown an improvement.
"With Friday morning's weather we didn't get as many laps done as we'd like in FP1, but I was still happy with how the car felt with the new parts on it,” the Dutchman acknowledged, “We didn't have KERS for the session, which obviously knocks off about three-tenths a lap, but we were focusing on testing the new parts so, even though the times were okay, it was more important to gather as much data as possible.
"In the afternoon session, we carried on with evaluation of the update package and we definitely made more progress. The car had good balance on the medium tyres, both on short and long runs, and I think we showed quite good pace on that compound and on the hards, but we need to work on the car's behaviour on the entry into corners. Against that is the fact that the car has much better traction out of the corners and that's a really positive sign."