Valentino Rossi returned to the cockpit of a Ferrari F1 car for the first time since February 2006, during the opening day of his special two-day test session at Mugello on Thursday - and lapped within 1.5sec of F1 pace.
The test marks Rossi's fifth appearance in a Ferrari F1 car since 2004. However, "this time it was just for pure fun, for both - Ferrari and Rossi - celebrating their victorious seasons." said a Ferrari statement. The Mugello test is open to the public, with tickets available for 5 Euros.
Rossi was driving an F2008 car, which won this year's F1 constructors' world championship and finished second and third in the drivers' world championship with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. Rossi's F2008, wearing a #46, was the actual car used by Raikkonen in the season-ending F1 races in China and Brazil. It is the first F1 car Rossi has driven without traction control.
Rossi completed 26 laps of the Tuscan circuit - scene of his record-breaking seventh consecutive home motorcycle grand prix victory on June 1 - this morning, setting a best lap time of 1min 23.76sec.
That was around three seconds off the ultimate pace, but Rossi - watched by Fiat Yamaha MotoGP team manager Davide Brivio and father Graziano - then halved that deficit during 25 afternoon laps to end day one with a best lap time of 1min 22.55sec.
To put that into perspective, Ferrari's previous test at Mugello, which took place in September, saw the team's experienced test driver Luca Badoer lead the way with a lap of 1min 21.010sec lap. 2007 world champion Raikkonen, driving the day after Badoer, clocked a 1min 21.079sec while Massa, who took over for the third and final day, could only manage a 1min 23.618sec due to a damp track.
"I'm really happy that I had this possibility and I want to thank [Ferrari] president Luca di Montezemolo and [team principal] Stefano Domenicali for it," said Rossi.
"Driving a Ferrari Formula One car on a track like Mugello is something fantastic and incredible. It's great to work with people on such a high level, like those who were at the track with me today.
"We've done some pretty good work, very professional, and we tried to improve lap after lap. I'm satisfied and I hope I can do it again tomorrow," he added.
Mugello test – Thursday:
ITA Ferrari 1min 22.5sec
Ferrari's previous Mugello F1 test - September 17-19 2008:
1. Luca Badoer
ITA Ferrari Test Driver 1min 21.010sec
2. Kimi Raikkonen
FIN Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 1min 21.079sec
3. Felipe Massa
BRA Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 1min 23.618sec
Badoer drove on the 17th, Raikkonen the 18th and Massa the 19th. All three were using the F2008 car
Unofficial all-time Mugello F1 lap record:
BRA Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 1min 18.704sec