Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was in the Algarve on Wednesday putting the new McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25 through its paces at the Algarve Motor Park track near Portimão.
The British driver made his appearance with fellow team driver Heikki Kovalainen during a week of testing at the circuit.
This was the first time that Formula One racing had been in Portugal in an official capacity since Estoril lost its Grand Prix status.
Spanish star and double world champion Fernando Alonso was also at the track at the beginning of the week with team mate Nelson Piquet Junior as the new Renault R29 was unveiled to fans and press.
Both drivers expressed their satisfaction with the modifications made to the new car and cockpit while applauding the race track itself.
“It’s fantastic,” said Piquet, who compared the circuit’s undulations to those found at Spa or Istanbul.
“Great traction, very interesting and one of the best in the world – I feel at home!”
These sentiments were subsequently echoed by Williams’ Nico Hulkenerg, who enjoyed a first outing in the team’s FW31.
“It’s a great track,” the German test pilot said, “very safe, while offering challenging ups and downs, fast as well as tight bends- it is just a shame that the wet conditions do not allow us to push our cars to the limit at the moment.”
Although organisers and spectators alike must have been disappointed by the last-minute cancellation by Ferrari due to the adverse weather conditions, amid rumours that the latest F60 was not ready, there was still plenty of top machinery on view to the west of Portimão as Williams, Toro Rosso and Toyota also unveiled their 2009 cars.
Meanwhile, Parkalgar CEO Paulo Pinheiro negated the local implications of the financial crisis presently affecting motor sport.
“Our programme for the coming season has been confirmed in its entirety, there have been no withdrawals,” he said.
Defending the outstanding quality of his product, the driving force behind the long-standing Motor Park project said he was confident of its long-term success: “We will see if we can continue to make a difference.”
McLaren and Williams are both scheduled to return for further technical fine tuning between the 26th and 29th of this month and during the first week of February respectively.
Meanwhile the Parkalgar Honda team has been giving its riders Eugene Laverty and Miguel Praia a first chance to put their new 2009 CBR 600RR bikes through their paces in Almeria. Already familiar with the Spanish track from last year’s winter training, the Algarve’s very own Supersport team relished the opportunity to compare their progress with that of other teams present at the beginning of the week ahead of this weekend’s official World Superbike test back at their home track. This will be last time all the grid starters will be brought together ahead of the 2009 season which roars into life on Australia’s Philip Island on March 1.
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