Fernando Alonso is revelling in the passion, atmosphere and feeling being generated at Ferrari, in contrast to the “cold” he felt after arriving at McLaren.
On his first day inside Ferrari’s new car, Alonso thrilled a truly astonishing test day crowd of 36,000 fans who endured a four-mile jam into Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit to watch their hero in action.
After just 25 laps he had surpassed the previous best time of the week posted by team-mate Felipe Massa, before lowering it again later in the day to one minute 11.470 seconds for the 2.5-mile track.
After completing 127 laps overall, finishing 0.6secs quicker than another Spaniard in Pedro de la Rosa - who continues to surprise in his Sauber – and a quarter-of-a-second up on Massa, you could sense Alonso immediately feels at home.
“The feeling, atmosphere, passion of everybody within Ferrari is unbelievable, and I’ve had time to feel that since day one,” said Alonso.
“It’s nice to be in the garage speaking Italian with the mechanics as they have a similar sense of humour to people in Spain, so it’s very good so far. I’m enjoying life.”
Asked as to how his first day with Ferrari compared to that when he was at McLaren, where he endured a torrid time prior to a bitter fall-out and ignominious exit, Alonso’s answer was unequivocal.
“You join a big team and you want to do well, but there’s not the same culture, character, so the atmosphere there was a little more cold,” remarked the 28-year-old from Oviedo.
“They were very professional, and as far as the car is quick, you felt comfortable, but here, for me, Ferrari is very special.”
In raising the bar so early on, pretty much as Jenson Button did when he took to the track in his Brawn GP for the first time last year, Alonso will have sent expectation levels soaring.
For the double world champion from 2005 and 2006, many will now believe he and Ferrari will be the combination to beat.
“I don’t think so,” added Alonso as he attempted to play down expectations.
“This is the first day, which was all about being comfortable. That was the priority. There were many things to discover, to learn.
“In topping the times for three days, maybe it’s related to fuel loads, or maybe it’s true that we are competitive.
“Of course, expectations are always high, and this year being with Ferrari, people will expect a lot from us.
“But there is nothing we can do, other than our maximum, to try to be competitive, professional and quick.”
Of the three champions on track yesterday – with seven-times king Michael Schumacher third quickest in his Mercedes a second down on Alonso – it was Jenson Button who endured the roughest ride.
Initially up until 1am the night before in an attempt to resolve seat-fitting issues that took another two hours into the session to fix, Button then spent the afternoon adjusting to his new car.
It was a far from ideal day for Button, who finished 1.5secs down on Alonso, although there is a sense that the situation can only improve.
After exclaiming the day to be a long one, he added: “The morning was tough because we had to change a lot within the car.
“It’s taken a long time, but we are getting there and we’re much closer to getting it spot on, which is good.
“Hopefully when we get to Jerez (for the second test next week) we will be a lot more comfortable and at home and I can go out and do some proper testing.”