VALENCIA, February 4 – Double world champion Fernando Alonso set a scorching pace in Formula One testing here on Wednesday, laying down an early marker to Michael Schumacher and title holder Jenson Button.Watched by over 35,000 passionate home fans, Alonso clocked a best of 1min 11.470sec after putting in 127 laps in his first full outing for his new Ferrari team.
Schumacher, in his Mercedes, was third fastest with a best of 1min 12.438sec, just behind Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa in 1min 12.094sec.
"It was a very emotional day, very special because it’s also my father’s birthday. These past few days I have been really anxious to get into the car," said Alonso, who also praised the crowd.
"We expected a lot of people. But it’s one thing to expect, it’s another to see them there in the stands. Each time I went onto the track I could see how excited they were."
Despite being half a second faster than his rivals, Alonso urged against over-optimism in the knowledge that early-season test times are traditionally an unreliable guide to the season ahead.
Many teams opt to concentrate on set-ups, fuel loads and gaining crucial technical data as opposed to setting the fastest time.
"You don’t have to set great times. You can drive with more or less fuel, use more or fewer tyres. I’m happy to be in the car, but I remain cautious," said the Spaniard.
Alonso, who has moved to Ferrari from Renault, will also test at Jerez from February 10 with the 2010 world championship due to start in Bahrain on March 14.
Meanwhile, seven-time world champion Schumacher admitted his high-profile return to Formula One after a three-year absence has been easier than he thought.
"Actually it’s been much easier than I anticipated. I thought it would need a bit more time but it went pretty quickly," said 41-year-old Schumacher who drove 82 laps on Wednesday.
"I’m really happy. I had a good first day, with a rather short run (40 laps) on Monday. Today we had a full day. A little hydraulic leak has stopped us.
"But all in all, it’s very positive feedback. The car is running very smoothly, very nicely. I’m very positive."
Testing continues in Jerez in Spain next week and Schumacher will again take track time.
World champion Button, who has moved to McLaren from Brawn GP, drove his new car for the first time on Wednesday, but spent a large part of the morning in the pits working on his seat position.
Button, who will partner 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, was eventaully fifth fastest on the day with a best time of 1min 12.951sec.
"This is the wrong place for us to be thinking about who is quick and who isn’t," he said.
"I’m guessing everyone is going to be having updates for the first race anyway and with the difference in fuel loads, you could be running 10 kilos or 160 kilos, so there is a massive difference."
Jaime Alguersuari, in a Toro Rosso, was fourth fastest in 1min 12.576sec, with Vitaly Petrov, the first Russian driver in F1, clocking 1.13.097 in a Renault.
Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg was seventh quickest in 1min 13.669sec.