The Honda Racing F1 Team’s on-track preparations for Sunday’s French Grand Prix got underway at the Circuit de Nevers today. Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button completed a total of 110 laps and ended the day in 17th and 19th positions respectively.
There has been no Formula One testing at the 4.411km (2.741-mile) track since last year’s race, so the engineers and drivers had long job lists for today’s three hours of track time. Thanks to the faultless reliability of the RA108s, they were able to complete their programmes and get a good understanding of the Bridgestone soft and medium-compound tyres.
Initially, the asphalt was quite slippery and strong cross winds throughout the day made it difficult to balance the cars. However, with better track conditions in the afternoon the team found a good set-up direction with which to improve the cars prior to tomorrow’s qualifying session.
In the morning, Rubens completed 25 laps to set a fastest time of 1:17.491s. That left him in the middle of the midfield group, which is where the Honda Racing F1 Team expects to do battle this weekend. Jenson had a few set-up issues and was 0.5s slower than his team-mate.
In the afternoon, it was a role reversal for the drivers. Jenson was the faster of the two, with a best lap of 1:17.244s and Rubens was 0.3s behind him.
"It was a productive day today and we were able to achieve good mileage over the two sessions,” commented Jenson Button. “We made progress during the course of the day and I felt happier with the car this afternoon. Unfortunately we were still lacking pace, which was a surprise as we were hoping to be challenging the top ten here in France.”
Barrichello was similarly surprised: “Although the track conditions improved in the afternoon, we were not able to make as much progress as we hoped over the course of the day. We were expecting the car to perform better around this circuit, however it is evident that we have some work to do to get the balance right. Although we may have been running a different programme to our competitors, I think today reflects that we will be competing in the midfield pack this weekend."
“A challenging day, but all is not lost,” was the verdict of Head of Race & Test Engineering Steve Clark. “The lap times may not reflect the true pace of our cars today. Neither car had all the elements in place at the same time to put a lap together. We were making some fairly significant changes to the cars looking for a balance. It has to be said that we were expecting to have a better car than we had today.”
The team will now analyse the data from today’s running before making its final calls on set-up and strategy for qualifying and the race.