Two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso set the pace at today’s Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi. The Spaniard was the quickest of 15 drivers on duty representing 8 teams, with McLaren and Racing Point not attending.
It was a productive day on both sides of the Renault garage – Alonso accumulating 105 laps and posting the fastest time as he edges closer to his Formula 1 return with the French team in 2021, and Guanyu Zhou completing 98 laps, after recovering from a spin at Turn 19, which partially delayed his morning’s programme.
The purpose of the day’s test was to enable both drivers to grow accustomed to modern F1 machinery across low fuel qualifying simulations and high fuel race runs.
Alonso and Zhou tested the two-year old R.S.18 at the same venue a couple of weeks ago on demo tyres, while for today’s running, they sampled Pirelli’s C4 (Medium) and C5 (Soft) compounds.
“It was good and very nice to be back in the car especially with the race team,” said the Spaniard. “I’ve been testing the 2018 car in preparation but this one felt a bit more serious and it ignited a little bit the competitive spirit.
“It was great to feel the modern cars and experience what they can do,” he continued. “I was watching the team’s progress at the weekend closely and it was nice to experience what I learnt from the outside and then inside the cockpit today.
“We signed off lots of basic things we did in preparation at the factory like seat fitting, pedal position and so on, which is beneficial with only one and a half days of winter testing next year. We ticked boxes today and we go into Christmas and New Year with good spirit and everyone motivated in the team.”
“It was a pretty decent day,” added Zhou. “I got used to the car straight away, we did a lot of laps including race runs and performance runs, which were very interesting.
“Our pace was reasonably stable, so I was happy with that, especially this morning’s performance run. There were a couple of technical things here and there, but it is testing, we still did a lot of laps, and that is the main purpose.
“I wasn’t really looking for lap time and during the last two sessions, together with the team, we found a good balance on the car in comparison to the evening sessions at the weekend, so that’s positive learning for the team. Overall, I’m really happy with my first time driving the 2020 car, so thanks to Renault for the opportunity.”
Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes ‘reserve driver’, and Nyck de Vries, who both race in Formula E for the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team, were in action for the Brackley outfit. From Vandoorne it was his first outing in the W11 and de Vries’ first taste of F1 machinery.
In the morning session, Vandoorne set the pace, with de Vries in third. In the afternoon, both drivers improved their times, with de Vries moving up to second overall and Vandoorne ending the day third on the timesheets.
Today’s programme included giving the drivers experience on single lap and long runs, set-up changes to understand the effects they have on car balance and understanding the behaviour of the 2020 Pirelli tyres. The team also completed simulator comparisons – as both drivers work in the team’s simulator facility.
“I had a lot of fun out there today in the W11,” said Vandoorne. “I managed to complete plenty of laps with both some short and longer runs. It was a pretty smooth day and I was quickest in the morning session as well. I want to say a massive thank you to the team for giving me this opportunity, because the chance to drive a Championship-winning F1 car doesn’t come around very often and is very unique. It was a real privilege to drive W11 and a really great day. I had to cut the afternoon a little short because I had to leave to the airport for a PR commitment, but nonetheless I’m really happy with the day we’ve had in the car and the opportunity to end the year driving W11.
“Today was very special, making my Formula One debut,” added de Vries. “What an incredible car, it’s from a different planet really. You can brake so late and carry so much speed through the corners. It was a real pleasure to drive. I’m really pleased with the progression I made throughout the day and the work we completed. I was quite surprised with how quickly I felt comfortable in the car and the team was very supportive, doing everything they could to make me feel as comfortable as possible. A massive thanks to Mercedes for this very unique and special opportunity because it was a great day in the car.”
Today was the last time we’ll see the W11 on track for a few years,” said Andrew Shovlin, “so it was nice to give it one last run with Nyck and Stoffel, our Formula E drivers.
“They both did a great job. Stoffel has driven some of our previous cars over the last few years, but this was his first time driving the W11, so it was interesting to get his feedback. Unfortunately, Stoffel had to leave early to make a commitment with the Formula E team and missed the cooler conditions at the end of the day, but we were able to get through a full programme. For Nyck, it was his first day in an F1 car and he’s impressed us with how quickly he was up to speed and his pace on low and high fuel. Both Stoffel and Nyck contribute to our F1 programme with simulator work so today has been a really useful opportunity to let them try the real thing, and a nice way for us to close off the 2020 season.”
At Alfa Romeo, Robert Kubica and Callum Ilott completed a total of 182 laps, from morning to late afternoon, finally consigning the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN C39 to a place in its Hinwil collection in the golden light of dusk.
Kubica, on his sixth appearance of the year behind the wheel, and Ilott, whose previous experience with the team dates back to a test in Barcelona last year, completed an issue-free day, concentrating on their run plans and bringing the team’s programme to completion on schedule. It was a busy day, but a successful one – a good omen as the team put this campaign into the history books and begins the countdown for 2021.
“It’s always good to spend time driving this car,” said Kubica, “especially having the opportunity to do a full day of testing. It’s crucial to get a good feeling with the car, get into a rhythm, and having from morning to evening today really allowed me to get in this zone and do a good job. Now a long and intense season finally comes to an end: I’d like to thank all the guys and girls at Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN for the work they have put in all year, it’s been an incredible job.”
“It’s been an amazing day, driving an incredible car,” added Ilott. “I am thankful to Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN and the Ferrari Driver Academy for the opportunity to drive today. We completed 93 laps, some good mileage and a busy day for the team. From my personal point of view, I’ve really enjoyed it: it took a lot of focus to keep performing at this level, in such a powerful car, but it’s been really good and I hope to get more opportunities to drive this car in the future.”
“I had more track time today than when I tried a Formula 1 car for the first time in November,” sais Yuki Tsunoda, who completed 123 laps and ended the day fifth quickest, “and I must admit I feel a bit tired now at the end of the day. But it was a very enjoyable experience.
“When I last drove in Imola it was a 2018 car, so I was surprised at the increase in power and downforce from the current car. However, the experience from my drive in Imola was definitely a useful starting point for today. There were quite a few aspects that felt new to me and during the session I worked on dealing with these and continuously improving throughout the day. I learned a lot and have made progress with my driving.
“The off-season starts tomorrow, and I have a training programme planned to make sure I am always stronger and fitter, but I will also enjoy some days at home in Japan, to fully recharge batteries.”
“First of all, thank you to everyone in Scuderia AlphaTauri for the opportunity I had today to drive an F1 car for the very first time,” added Marino Sato. “We completed quite a lot of laps, it’s just a shame that I got stuck in bit of traffic for my run on the soft compound. It was looking good until then, but I can’t say I could fully give it all I had today. But still, the first day in a Formula 1 car was really enjoyable and a great experience, so I hope to come back to drive this car again soon.”
“It was a very successful test,” said Franz Tost. “We completed 250 laps with the two cars and it was quite a good lesson for both the drivers. They could experience the preparation which is required for such an event, like the FIA jump test, which they both passed without problems, and they could learn what it means having to work with a lot more engineers than what they were used to.
“During the test we were not allowed to do set up changes, but they could certainly learn the car and compare different tyre compounds as we tested both Primes and Options. Especially here in Abu Dhabi, it’s important for the driver to understand how to use the tyres not to overheat them and to get the correct temperature.
“Yuki had already tested an F1 car in Imola back in November, but this time he could drive the current-spec car, and for Marino, it was his first time in F1. Yuki did a great job while giving us very good technical feedback, and his cooperation with the engineers has been really beneficial. Marino also did a solid job, he completed many laps, learning the car and how an F1 team works. If he continues like this I think he has a future in motorsport. Today we had a very fruitful test, a good end to a successful 2020 season.
“I would like to thank all the team members, at the track and in the operation room, in Faenza and Bicester, and last but not least, Honda, for their fantastic support and their very powerful and reliable PU. Everyone has done their part to achieve the best season ever in our history.”