Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time, taking the fight to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull on the opening day of the Korean Grand Prix weekend, with the top four cars from Mercedes and Red Bull separated by 0.171s.
It was the first race weekend for six events where Vettel has not been the pace setter in FP2 and offers some encouragement after Vettel’s domination of the recent Singapore Grand Prix.
Hamilton also set the pace in FP1, whose main talking point was a heavy accident for Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus. The Finn is carrying a back injury into the weekend, but he was able to walk away from the accident and take part in the afternoon session.
And the Mercedes drivers’ pace on the long runs on medium tyres was also strong, he did a 14 lap run with consistent laps in the mid 1m 45s range. Webber did a similar run.
In front of largely empty grandstands, the practice day saw work on both the Pirelli tyre compounds; supersoft and medium.
As a track that is very rarely used, it tends to improve a lot over the three days as it cleans up and rubber goes down.
The weather ahead may be uncertain, but it was fine for the first day of practice; tropical storm FITOW is in the area, but now projected to miss the circuit, however there is likely to be rain from the fringes of it.
The supersoft tyre was a step up of between 7/10ths of a second and 1 second in performance over the medium – less than in Singapore, but it’s a shorter lap with less corners.
Last year’s pole sitter Mark Webber set the benchmark at 1m 38.844, Hamilton lowered that by 0.171s, despite losing time in the first sector, which is all about straight line speed.
Rosberg was also quicker than Webber but still gave away 0.121s.
Alonso was 0.771s off the benchmark at the point where he set the time, before Vettel set his time on supersoft, the last of the big names to do so. Massa was a shade faster than his team mate, just 3/10ths slower than Webber’s Red Bull.
Vettel waited until almost an hour into the session to go out for his supersoft tyre run. He was three tenths up in the first sector, lost time in the middle sector and ended up the lap 1/10th slower than Hamilton.
“There is room for improvement but I think things will be very close this weekend with Mercedes,” said Vettel.
“You don’t know what other people were doing with fuel loads etc, but give or take 10 kilos up or down, it is still quite close and tomorrow in qualifying it will be tight, especially as Mercedes is always performing very well in qualifying.”
Raikkonen and Button were a second off the benchmark pace, with Grosjean again faster than his Lotus team mate. The Force India pair were separated by only 1/1000th of a second.
Toro Rosso were rather disappointing in 15th and 16th, the team has had double points finishes in Korea for the last two seasons.
KOREAN GRAND PRIX, Friday Practice 2
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m38.673s 31 Laps
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m38.781s +0.108s 30
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.797s +0.124s 32
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m38.844s +0.171s 35
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m39.114s +0.441s 30
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m39.226s +0.553s 34
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.444s +0.771s 31
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m39.757s +1.084s 33
9. Jenson Button McLaren 1m39.774s +1.101s 29
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m40.006s +1.333s 34
11. Paul di Resta Force India 1m40.007s +1.334s 34
12. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m40.152s +1.479s 31
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m40.186s +1.513s 33
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m40.210s +1.537s 34
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m40.446s +1.773s 30
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m40.552s +1.879s 26
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m41.117s +2.444s 35
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m41.289s +2.616s 34
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m42.461s +3.788s 36
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m42.798s +4.125s 35
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m43.108s +4.435s 31
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m43.441s +4.768s 29