Felipe Massa marked his official return to F1 action with the quickest time on the opening day of preseason Formula 1 testing at Valencia in Spain.
The Brazilian left it until the closing minutes of the day, following a brief red flag period, to set his best effort of 1m12.574sec – giving a clear signal that he has lost none of his speed following last year's Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying accident.
Massa had been quickest in the morning and, although losing the top spot early in the afternoon to BMW Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa, he moved back to the top near the end.
De la Rosa's effort was perhaps one of the biggest surprises. Just 24 hours after his BMW Sauber team made a low-key unveiling of its unsponsored C29, de la Rosa showed that a lack of works support had not hurt the team at all.
However, it was third fastest Schumacher's form on his return to F1 action that kept tongues wagging – as he quickly got up to speed in an impressive display. The seven-time champion took over from teammate Rosberg shortly before 3:30 p.m., steadily moving up the order as he got more comfortable with the car and new tires. He ended the day with a best lap of 1m12.947sec that came during the late flourish of quick times. It was less than four tenths slower than Massa and over half a second up on his teammate.
Although testing times ultimately count for little, Schumacher will have taken some pleasure from outpacing Rosberg on his first day back in action.
Rosberg had kicked off Mercedes GP's testing program in the morning, completing a total of 39 laps to set his best time of 1m13.543sec – when track conditions were probably not as favorable as the afternoon. Despite varying fuel loads making it difficult to judge the relative competitiveness of the teams, Rosberg was happy with his first impressions of the car.
"It felt good, yes," he said. "But it is impossible today. There are so many new circumstances that I cannot feel, is it a winner or is it not a winner? It generally felt very good but it is impossible to be sure how the performance is now."
Behind Rosberg, Gary Paffett went through detailed system checks with the new McLaren MP4-25 to set the fifth best time, ahead of Rubens Barrichello – who caused the only red flag of the day shortly before 4:30 p.m. when he stopped on track.
Sebastien Buemi ended the day at seventh overall with his Scuderia Toro Rosso team struggling to fix a gearbox problem that brought an early end to his running. He completed 10 laps in the morning and returned to action in the final minutes to just outpace Robert Kubica's Renault.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Massa Ferrari (B) 1:12.574 102
2. de la Rosa BMW Sauber-Ferrari (B) 1:12.784 74
3. M.Schumacher Mercedes GP (B) 1:12.947 40
4. Rosberg Mercedes GP (B) 1:13.543 39
5. Paffett McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:13.846 86
6. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth (B) 1:14.449 75
7. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:14.762 18
8. Kubica Renault (B) 1:15.000 69
All Timing Unofficial