Hamilton & Alonso to Debut 2009 Challengers at Portimao

Lewis Hamilton is all set to make his debut in the all-new McLaren MP4-24 at Portimao. The reigning F1 champion enjoyed a long vacation this winter, having missed the previous 3 testing session last year – at Jerez, Barcelona and Algarve – on the 2008-spec car. Today will be the first time the British driver will have entered the cockpit following his dramatic race in Brazil last season.

“I was fortunate to have some time off over Christmas. I enjoyed myself, relaxed and completely put my racing out of my mind, and was able to live life normally,” said Hamilton ahead of his first test-drive with the MP4-24.

McLaren's 2009 challenger was already tested by official test driver Pedro de la Rosa during the first 2 days at Portimao, with both sessions being affected by the bad weather. After his first experience with the new car, the Spaniard revealed that he's not all that impressed with the new aero package or slick tires, having scored the 2nd best time during both Sunday and Monday testing sessions (Sebastien Buemi was first, driving a 2008-spec car).

“The car has more grip at low speed, so we are definitely gaining time, but then losing a little bit in the high speed corners. I think that the lap times will be very similar. What you lose on the high-speed corners you get back on the low-speed corners,” said De la Rosa.

“The car has a little bit more grip at the front end generally and it is very responsive to steering. You have to put everything together - if you put these tires onto last year's car, we would be three seconds a lap faster,” added the Spaniard.

Fernando Alonso is also expected to hit the Portimao track today, as he preferred to test the new Renault R29 during the 3rd and 4th day of the Portuguese meeting. Teammate Nelsinho Piquet had some problems with the engine yesterday, as he was forced to pull out of the testing session after only 9 laps.
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