The first day back

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All eyes were on the Algarve when the teams finally revealed their 2009 cars. But lap times were the last thing on observers’ minds

New Formula 1 cars are a bit like London buses – you don’t see one for months, and then suddenly several come along at once.

That was the case at a damp and windswept Algarve Motor Park in mid-January when no fewer than four 2009 models made their track debuts, two of them emerging for the first time within minutes of each other. With McLaren, Toyota, Renault and Williams running together for the rest of the week it was the first chance for everyone to get some idea of how Grand Prix racing will look this year.

Ferrari was actually the first team to show and run its new car, the new F60 taking to the track at Mugello on Monday January 12. The team was supposed to join the competition at the new Portuguese venue, but forecasts of poor weather caused it instead to conduct further running in Italy, a move that also allowed it to be closer to base as it pursued teething gremlins.

However, the real action was in the Algarve, with McLaren having an exclusive shakedown on January 17, before Toyota took over the following day. The day after that saw the start of the general test as Renault and Williams both unveiled their cars to the media, immediately before they took to the track for the first time. Meanwhile on January 20 BMW Sauber gave its new car its first miles in Valencia, having chosen, like Ferrari, to run on its own for initial shakedown.

The massive raft of rule changes which the teams have had to deal with meant that each new car was greeted with more anticipation than usual, with technical staff keen to see what route their rivals have pursued over the winter. Last year the big news was whether the wheelbase had moved by 10mm, or whether a bargeboard was a little longer, but this time each car is utterly different from its predecessor.

And different is the operative word for 2009, because even their designers admit that the visually unbalanced combination of wide, low-slung front wings and high, narrow rear wings will take some time to get used to.

The good news is that they look a lot better proportioned than the interim models seen at the end of last year. The ban on ugly aero appendages such as winglets and bargeboards gives them an uncluttered, clean look that harks back to earlier times, especially in the swooping curves of the sidepods. And the return of slicks will surely be applauded by any real F1 fan. “If we had last year’s rear wings the cars would look beautiful,” Pedro de la Rosa told Motor Sport.

With Ferrari and BMW running solo, damp weather spoiling the Portugal test, and teams treating this initial outing as a shakedown with a basic ‘launch’ aero package (and in Ferrari and Toyota’s case running KERS on track for the first time), little could be learned about how the form book will play out this year.

It remains to be seen if a combination of the new aero package, KERS power boost button and adjustable front wings does create more overtaking. If it does what the FIA predicts then any thoughts that these new cars are ugly ducklings will soon be forgotten…

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