18 Nov 08
World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb did the WRC community proud on Monday when he set a remarkable pace in a Formula 1 car at the series’ official test in Barcelona.
Loeb was invited to join the Red Bull Racing team for the day as a reward from his Citroen Team’s sponsors for winning the 2008 WRC drivers’ title. Rather than just enjoying the experience, however, Sebastien delivered a string of competitive laps and was even able to help the team with its 2009 season development work.
The 4.65km circuit was extremely busy throughout the day as all but one of the teams (Toyota) took the opportunity to test. Following a 100km shakedown at Silverstone last week Loeb was quickly into the groove when the session started at 0900hrs. Conditions remained dry all day and enabled Loeb to push the car harder than he had in the wet at Silverstone.
After spending most of the morning settling in and finding a good balance with the car Loeb carried out some serious work in the afternoon, evaluating the Bridgestone slick tyres that will be used in 2009 and providing the team with valuable data. In total the Frenchman completed 82 laps and at one point posted the sixth fastest time.
The fact that most teams were experimenting with a variety of 2008 and 2009 tyre, aero and other components made it impossible to benchmark Loeb’s performance against that of the other drivers, but his best lap of 1m22.503s was less than two seconds adrift of the fastest of the day, set by Takuma Sato of Scuderia Torro Rosso.
Under the guidance of Daniele Casanove, one of Mark Webber’s engineers, Loeb even felt comfortable enough to experiment with some set-ups of his own. “It was a very exciting experience and a big pleasure to have the opportunity to drive here,” said Loeb. “To start with I just tried to understand quickly how it all worked and then tried to improve. Later on I tried to change the settings a little - but maybe not in the right way because the times were not improving and even I felt I could go a bit faster. But I felt in some places I wasn’t far from what I should be capable of with the car. I think the most impressive thing was the brakes. You have to heat then strongly but it’s incredible how late you can brake. I tried in some places to brake later and later but I still wasn’t on the limit - it’s really impressive.”
Although the session was not a true competitive experience Loeb was able to get a sense of the car-to-car combat which - short of Super Specials - isn’t a feature of the WRC. “Today was not like a race so when I saw someone faster in my mirrors I pulled over to the opposite side of the track,” he explained. “Anyway, I think you learn more when you’re driving alone and then speak to the engineers and look at the data. But I did overtake. I followed one car for quite a while, I was closing and he stopped to let me past, so that was okay, but for sure at these speeds it must be something special to fight on a track.”
A senior source within the team had nothing but praise for the way Loeb had adapted to the F1 environment: “We were really, really impressed. Seb came in and has not put a foot wrong in conditions which haven’t always been easy. Not only has he set good times today but he has the right attitude too. He’s showed a lot of professionalism. We were expecting to be pleasantly surprised and we weren’t disappointed.”
To see him at the Silverstone test click here