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Lewis Hamilton back testing in Spain

Lewis Hamilton After the racist taunts he suffered in Barcelona 10 days ago, Lewis Hamilton returned to Spain for more testing. In Jerez he drove before a well-mannered crowd of around 1000 — and clocked the fastest time.

With rival team Ferrari absent, the McLaren driver held off test driver Pedro de la Rosa by 0.2 seconds and BMW’s Robert Kubica by half a second.

Hamilton said, “It’s great to get back out on the track in Spain. We have another two days here and there’s a lot we need to get done.”

De la Rosa commented on the Barcelona furore, “The Spanish fans are educated and peaceful people. So much has been said about this issue. The important thing for me is that at this test it can be demonstrated that all drivers are treated with respect, which has always been the case.”

After one of the most fractious seasons in 2007, let’s hope his sentiments carry forward into 2008.

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News Round-Up

The big news today is Formula 1 Latest‘s new look, of course. Well, with all the teams unveiling new cars and colors, it was time for this site to do a bit of showing off too. All comments will be gratefully accepted.

There is a not-so-subtle hint as to my preference this season in the header. Last year I went with Renault (and guess who was right), this time it’s Honda’s turn. The fact that a black car goes so well with the design had a lot to do with it as well, I admit!

Honda

Honda RA107

Otherwise, the main news is of the first day of testing in Jerez. McLaren continue their recent form with Pedro de la Rosa setting the best time but, perhaps significantly, the new Williams was next up in the hands of Alex Wurz. That is pretty impressive for a car on its first test run and brings to mind other years when Williams were the dominant team.

It is unlikely that we are headed into a similar year, however; the times are so close that the coming season looks to be the closest in years. Just about everyone seems to be on the pace, only the much-vaunted Red Bull RB3 lagging behind somewhat. If that continues, it would seem hardly worth Spyker’s time and money to take Toro Rosso to court over their use of the RB3 chassis, especially as Gerhard Berger says he’s more than ready to fight.

As you would expect, it’s the teams most likely to be affected by Toro Rosso’s and Super Aguri’s customer cars that are protesting loudest: Spyker and Williams. The others are not happy but make no mention of litigation. So it could be time for the four teams most involved to settle this like gentlemen. Patrick Head, Colin Kolles, Gerhard Berger and Aguri Suzuki, behind the bike sheds at noon – be there or be square!

Spyker stayed at home to let the new F8-VII out for its first run at a cold Silverstone. Albers expressed himself delighted with the car’s performance after putting over 100 miles on it. Which means that it’s looking good for reliability at least – if the car is as fast as it looks, there will be yet another team getting into the battle for honors in 2007.

Everyone keeps saying it but I can’t help repeating – this looks like being the best season in years.

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Testing in Jerez

Just as I waver in my prediction of Button for champion in 2007, the Honda team get it all together in testing at Jerez, with Barrichello fastest and test driver James Rossiter very close behind him. Clearly the team have got the measure of the Bridgestone tires and that bodes well for the coming season.

Rubens

Rubens Barrichello in testing with a black Honda

Autosport magazine has a full list of the times from the final day and they make interesting reading, even though they should be taken with the usual pinch of salt. These are not next years cars, after all, and each team is trying out different things, not necessarily competing for the quickest time.

But they are racing teams and I refuse to believe that they can ignore the times completely. Competition is in their blood.

Mark Webber and David Coulthard must be a little disappointed to be down in 12th and 14th places, even though they are still running the RB2 with Ferrari engines. How they must long for the introduction of Adrian Newey’s RB3. Scott Speed must be looking forward to the new Toro Rosso as well, especially as there are suspicions that it will be an RB3 too, albeit with a Ferrari rather than a Renault engine. And that’s if the other teams do not manage to put a halt on Toro Rosso’s plans – the protests against their using what amounts to a customer car are beginning to gather.

Lewis Hamilton was third fastest although de la Rosa wasn’t far behind him this time. The young Brit looks as convincing in testing as did Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel.

Toyota and Renault make quiet and confident progress, going fast enough yet without setting the world alight. Steady is the word that springs to mind and that is just what is needed at this stage. The Ferrari times can be ignored – they had a bad day, that’s all.

Note the speed of Anthony Davidson in the Super Aguri, however; he was only half a second slower than Barrichello. That’s not bad considering that Aguri were the bottom team of 2006. I guess it shows one of two things: either Aguri are really getting it together and could be looking at the mid-field next season, or testing times don’t matter at all!

Away from the track, the World Motor Sport Council have issued their take on the changes to come in F1 according to Max Mosley and Burkhard Goeschel. Essentially they agree completely and have added a few tweaks of their own. For instance, for the first time “standardized aerodynamics” has been mentioned. Couple this with the intent that any new technology introduced will be for sale to everyone, and you have a standardized formula. Lola are good at that – why not just get them to make all the cars for the teams?

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McLaren – The Giant Awakes

McLaren is much in the news today. Ron Dennis has been assuring the press that his team are ready to hit the big time again next season and he is confident that the new MP4-22 is the car to do it.

Ron

Ron Dennis

Certainly the team is looking good in testing; at Jerez today, Lewis Hamilton was third fastest behind the two Ferraris of Massa and Badoer. And he was quicker than Pedro de la Rosa, another good sign for the future. Testing times are always a poor yardstick since the teams are trying different tweaks and getting used to the Bridgestone tires, but they are a pointer at least. If Hamilton is already able to stay with the Ferraris, he is clearly something special and can only get faster as he adds to his experience.

McLaren are also expecting to be debt-free by the end of January and Ron Dennis says that they are more financially healthy now than ever before. Add to this his determination that the drivers will be given exactly what they want so that they can give of their best in the races, and you have a team that is getting down to the business of winning championships again.

It may well be that Fernando Alonso remains the man to beat in 2007, in spite of everyone’s expectations of Raikkonen. Ron Dennis has already mentioned that the Finn does not listen to advice and this may not sit well with the Ferrari team. Alonso is much more professional in his attitude and probably just as quick on the track, so McLaren might have a better driver/car combination now than would have been the case if Raikkonen had stayed. With Lewis looking good already, this driver pairing promises to be ideal.

It would help, of course, if Alonso could get some time in the car before January. Ron Dennis is asking Renault to release him before the end of his contract and is hopeful that this could happen in the next few days. Perhaps if Ron were to allow Raikkonen to test for Ferrari as well, he would demonstrate a flexibility that would encourage Flavio Briatore to look more kindly upon his suggestion. Although what Flavio gets out of the deal is difficult to see – he has his drivers free of contract and they are testing already.

What it all means, however, is that McLaren are suddenly looking a lot stronger, just as suggested in my post, Alonso and McLaren, back in October. If the MP4-22 is as good as Ron expects, Alonso is going to make me look silly with my prediction that Jenson Button will be World Champion in 2007…

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