Sebastian Vettel continued to set the pace during free practice for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, but it was very close between him, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber and it promises to be a very competitive weekend.
As with pre-season testing the long run performance of the Lotus of Romain Grosjean was the stand out from the day and combined with Raikkonen’s single lap pace, just 2/10ths of a second slower than Vettel, Lotus look to be a force this weekend as well.
There was a scare for Paul Di Resta who suffered what appeared to be a left rear tyre delimitation on the exit of the final corner, which forced him to stop on track. The incident was similar to Lewis Hamilton’s problem in Bahrain but Di Resta stopped the car quickly before any damage was done to the suspension.
After minimal dry running in Friday’s FP1 session, following a heavy rain shower, this afternoon gave the teams their first real chance to test the upgrades that are typically added to the cars as the European season begins. These are the product of 10-12 weeks of development work in the wind tunnel and comprise new front and rear wings, modifications to floor, exhausts and engine covers as well as brake ducts in some cases. Ferrari has modified its side pods.
And with a fully dry track and optimum weather conditions the afternoon session became crucial in testing new upgrades as well as the new specification Pirelli hard tyre.
Like in March, the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton set the initial pace during the opening twenty minutes using the hard tyre – but were quickly disposed once the medium tyre runs commenced. However the Ferrari looked particularly competitive on the hard tyre as well as the medium.
On the lower fuel runs on the medium tyre the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers took charge. After a number of short runs throughout the field there was a flurry of single laps on the option compound with Vettel getting the better off his team mate and the Ferrari drivers. Edging out Alonso by 2/100ths and Webber by 8/100ths of a second, Vettel’s time remained unbeatable and puts him in a strong position at a track on which he is surprisingly yet to take a pole position.
The two teams then set about collecting high fuel data on both tyre compounds. The drop off from the ultimate pace of each tyre was large, however consistency and degradation was managed better for these two teams than was seen for others. Mercedes once again seemingly struggled to match their competitors in times of tyre life.
Behind the top three, Kimi Raikkonen took fourth place away from Felipe Massa with a single run on the medium tyre before also switching attentions to race simulations. Lotus have continued with their ability to manage the tyre life, with Romain Grosjean managing a ten- lap run on the medium compound. The Frenchman didn’t complete a qualifying simulation and ended the day in eighteenth place, but with Raikkonen’s one-lap pace and his own long stint consistency Lotus look in good shape to challenge at the front this weekend.
Behind the Mercedes duo in sixth and seventh, the top ten was closed out by Adrian Sutil, Jean-Eric Vergne and Paul Di Resta. Vergne had a much needed good Friday after the recent qualifying efforts of team mate Daniel Ricciardo. And following third place in FP1, he posted a genuinely quick time in the afternoon to split the Force India cars.
The Silverstone based squad have cemented their position as the fifth best car in Formula One and are looking for a trouble free weekend to kick off their European season. However things did not go to plan for Di Resta when his rear-left tyre delaminated entering the pit straight. It was a situation similar to that of Hamilton in Bahrain and will give Pirelli plenty of headaches tonight.
Given that Di Resta had done only seven laps on the tyres at that point and other cars covered more laps it may be that the problem is a manufacturing quality control issue. It is certainly a concern on the back of the failures in Bahrain. Luckily for Di Resta the team saw the problem coming seconds before it happened thanks to thermal imaging.
There was a large amount of graining apparent after only a couple of laps on the medium tyre. This occurred predictably on the front-left tyre, which is under heavy load during numerous long right-handers, with the inner shoulder of that tyre looking particularly strained.
McLaren seem to have found minimal gains on their range of upgrades. They still have a new front-wing which they are yet to run and finished the day in twelfth and thirteenth places, with Jenson Button getting the better of Sergio Perez. The pair completed six laps each in FP1, with Button the only car to not complete a flying lap.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Free Practice 2
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m22.808s 34 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m22.825s + 0.017s 35
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m22.891s + 0.083s 36
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m23.030s + 0.222s 32
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m23.110s + 0.302s 37
6. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m23.140s + 0.332s 35
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.398s + 0.590s 45
8. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m23.840s + 1.032s 37
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m24.058s + 1.250s 31
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.104s + 1.296s 25
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m24.175s + 1.367s 32
12. Jenson Button McLaren 1m24.306s + 1.498s 35
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m24.854s + 2.046s 31
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m24.888s + 2.080s 38
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m25.167s + 2.359s 38
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m25.321s + 2.513s 32
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m25.441s + 2.633s 37
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m25.851s + 3.043s 35
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m25.963s + 3.155s 30
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m26.078s + 3.270s 31
21. Charles Pic Caterham 1m26.930s + 4.122s 35
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m26.970s + 4.162s 25