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01 March 2024

Alonso returns as F1 testing moves up a gear

By Reuters

Fernando Alonso will test his new Ferrari for the first time in Spain on Tuesday while former champions Williams bring Formula One's 'launch season' to a close as the last team to unveil their 2013 car.

There will not be much fanfare, if any, at either event when the second of three pre-season tests gets underway at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.

In days gone by, the unveiling of new cars was an excuse for excess - whether it be through extravagant presentations in glamorous locations or enlisting the Spice Girls as part of the show - but the current age of austerity has made such lavish gestures a thing of the past.

Forget putting the car on a plinth in Venice's St Mark's Square (Benetton 2001) or hiring the Cirque du Soleil to perform at London's Albert Hall (Jordan 1998).

The norm this year has been for the bright and shiny new cars to be pushed out of the garage into the sunlight and then sent on their way after a few brief words from the team boss and drivers.

When tail-enders Marussia revealed their car in Jerez this month they merely rolled it on to the starting grid and removed the travel cover without even a driver next to it.

Champions Red Bull splashed out on champagne and finger food for guests but otherwise showed off their car at the factory while McLaren and Ferrari did likewise.
"There are some reality checks going around," observed McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh, whose own team's launch involved putting up temporary seating in the factory atrium with a drive-past of classic cars to mark McLaren's 50th anniversary.
"We used to hire Alexandra Palace and launches were a competition. People don't want to see one-million-pound ($1.55-million) extravaganzas any more. Times have changed. We peaked," added Whitmarsh.
Williams are last to launch - the others all getting their cars out before or at Jerez - but the livery has already been revealed and new bits tried out at the previous test.

The emphasis will be on getting Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado on track and putting miles under his belt as much as anything.

Ferrari tested the F138 with Brazilian Felipe Massa at Jerez, with Alonso absent. Tuesday, in front of his home fans, will be the Spaniard's first run in a promising-looking car that will carry his hopes of a third championship this year but it will be a test like any other.

The spirit in Formula One, even if the smallest team still spends tens of millions a year, is very different to what it was in the years of excess of the 1990s and the start of the new century.
"That was one of the allures of Formula One, because we were in the decade of excess," said Whitmarsh. 
"I think we've got to grow up as a sport and realise that actually there comes a point where that's not attractive any more and we've got to be about efficiency.
"If we were seen as the gas-guzzling, money-profligate sport that we were so proud to boast about in the '80s, I think we'd be losing relevance and touch with our audience," he added.