Positive start for Sauber

The new Sauber C24 encountered only minor teething problems during its first three days of testing, but Formula 1's top independent team is unwilling to make any predictions about its 2005 prospects until the new car has run alongside rival teams' latest chassis

Positive start for Sauber

Sauber drivers Jacques Villeneuve and Felipe Massa had exclusive use of the Valencia track for three days last week as they acclimatised to the C24, and the team concentrated on ironing out gremlins rather than assessing the car's outright pace.

"Our goal was to complete as many laps as possible in order to find out if anything is wrong with the C24," said technical director Willy Rampf. "So far we can say that the delicate new cooling system is working just fine, which is extremely important."

"There was one small problem with the exhaust heating the engine cover up a tad too much," added Peter Sauber. "But apart from that and a brief trip into the gravel by Felipe, all ran smoothly.

"We have already found the time to empty the tank to the last drop in order to calculate exactly how far we can go on a fuel load."

The new Ferrari-powered C24 will test alongside its rivals for the first time at Catalunya in the coming week. Until then, Sauber reckons it is "impossible to tell" how competitive the car might be.

Massa said his spin was due to a combination of a dirty track and his unfamiliarity with the new aerodynamic rules.

"Due to the new rules the cars behave more nervously," he said. "The driver has to work harder than before, and you brake earlier for the corners.

"The spin was entirely my fault - there was a bit of sand on the track and it takes some time to get used to the new handling. Luckily, the car was not damaged."

The Brazilian's new team-mate Jacques Villeneuve was only able to complete 24 laps before mechanical problems ended his programme. Rampf insisted that the difficulties Villeneuve experienced were just trifling new-car issues.

"We had some hydraulic and electrical problems," he said. "Nothing which should worry us - all of them are solvable. Things like this eat up lots of valuable testing time, but then again one of the basic reasons for a winter test is exactly this - to sort out gremlins in order to not let them happen during the grand prix weekends."

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