The new Formula One season began with a whimper today with a mainly empty track for much of first practice at Bahrain.
The sport’s two-race engine rules, which bring stern penalties for replacing an engine early, encouraged race drivers to stay in the garage for most of the first practice session of the new season.
BMW-Sauber’s new test driver Robert Kubica, the first Pole in Formula One, set the fastest time with an effort of one minute 32.170 seconds. Williams tester Alex Wurz was second.
A late flurry added more named to the lap charts but 11 drivers still preferred to sit tight in the pits prior to this afternoon’s second session.
They included all three Honda drivers – racers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as well as, surprisingly, tester Anthony Davidson who has no engine life worries.
Kimi Raikkonen, runner-up last year, was among those to hit the track late but the McLaren driver’s brief spell heralded third place.
Ferrari’s former world champion Michael Schumacher was fourth with Red Bull’s Christian Klien was fifth and Scuderia Toro Rosso tester Neel Jani sixth on his team’s debut.
Raikkonen’s McLaren team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya took seventh, ahead of Ferrari debutant Felipe Massa, while Scotsman David Coulthard ran wide on his way to ninth for Red Bull.
The new Super Aguri team used the session to gain valuable experience following the rushed preparations for their debut season.
Takuma Sato was the first Super Aguri driver to hit the track, followed swiftly by rookie team-mate Yuji Ide. The Honda-backed team are using four-year-old ex-Arrows chassis and they predictably found the going tough, with Sato and Ide ending up 16th and 17th respectively – bottom of the timing sheets.
Wurz became the first driver to hit the track this season in an official session, seconds after the pit lane opened.
He was in the mood for firsts on his Williams debut. He set the first timed lap before then becoming the first driver of the season to go off, running wide at turn 10 after 15 minutes.
Kubica took over at the top of the standings as the test drivers, and the Super Aguri pair, clocked upthe laps. Wurz briefly held top spot before a last-minute effort from Kubica.