What was intended as a 'thank-you' from a mutual sponsor for winning the World Rally Championship became a starting point for Red Bull Racing's winter testing programme as Sebastien Loeb's performance in Barcelona led to him providing useful feedback from his first serious outing in an F1 car.
Having had a brief shakedown at Silverstone last week, the Frenchman had a better idea of what to expect when he took to the track at the Circuit de Catalunya for the first day of the race to 2009, but still managed to produce a better-than-anticipated performance.
After spending most of the morning settling in to the unfamiliar surroundings of the Spanish Grand Prix venue and finding a good balance on the Renault-powered RB4, Loeb's confidence convinced that team to put him to more serious use in the afternoon. With the F1 rules switching away from the grooved rubber that has been mandatory for the past decade, Loeb was tasked with evaluating the new Bridgestone slick tyres and provided the team with valuable data that it will take into the rest of the test.
His personal recollections of the day, however, were more revealing as Loeb, who performs feats between trees that many an F1 driver would blanch at, admitted that he had been taken aback by the potential of the Red Bull machine.
“I don't think I'd like to take this much horsepower into the forests!” he quipped, “It was a great experience and I had fun, although I have to say that driving one of these cars is tougher physically than driving my rally car.
"Towards the end of the day, I began to get a good feel for the car and enjoyed the sensation of it moving around on the track - and I have to say that the level of grip in
the high speed corners is very impressive.”
Another unfamiliar face will take over behind the wheel on day two of the test on Tuesday, as 2009 signing Sebastian Vettel begins the first two days of life with his new team after performing miracles with Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008.