Massa helps kick off new F1 season

VALENCIA, Spain -- Ferrari driver Felipe Massa returned Monday to a competitive Formula One car for the first time since a life-threatening crash last summer and promptly set the fastest time in the season's debut test session.

Massa led the seven-car field with a best lap time of 1 minute, 12.574 seconds from 102 laps at Valencia's Cheste Circuit. That left him just over two-tenths of a second faster than Pedro De la Rosa of Sauber.

Massa said he felt "zero afraid" as he returned for the first time since undergoing lifesaving surgery following a freak crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix in August.

"For sure [I'm] happy to be back after such a long time watching the race on television and sometimes on the track," Massa said. "I'm very good on the physical point-of-view. I did 100 laps but I could have done much more."

Massa said Budapest never entered his thoughts as his competitive spirit was nourished for the first time in six months.

"It's always nice to be first whatever occasion," the 28-year-old Brazilian said. "After the difficult time I had, it's always nice to go back on the track, [to be] competitive. For me, everything was normal."

Except for seeing former teammate Michael Schumacher in the silver Mercedes GP car.

"It's a little bit strange but we will get used to it," said Massa, who was just under four-tenths of a second faster than Schumacher, who returned from a three-year retirement to finish third. "It was nice, it was fun. We also had a nice moment, I was passing him and we waived at each other."

Massa has driven several older model Ferraris since late last year but Monday's outing was his first in the new F10 car. The test session left him pleased with the Italian team's offseason work.

"It was a very positive day, the car behaves very well," Massa said. "The car behaved in the right direction, it was an easier car to drive compared to last year. Last year it was always difficult to find the direction, the balance.

"But it's not enough, there's still a lot of work, a lot to improve the car to the first race [at Bahrain]."

A poor campaign last season led Ferrari to focus on 2010 earlier than usual as it aims to compete for the title this time around. The Italians finished fourth in the constructors' standings with a single victory from former driver Kimi Raikkonen at Spa.

Massa will drive again Tuesday before making way for new teammate Fernando Alonso on Wednesday.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes was fourth -- just under one second back of Massa -- while McLaren test driver Gary Paffett rounded out the top-five.

Rubens Barrichello of Williams was sixth ahead of Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi -- who ran only 18 laps due to a gearbox problem -- and Robert Kubica of Renault.