Sebastian Vettel suffered little hangover from last week’s late retirement as he topped Free Practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, with Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber completing the top three.
The running order from Silverstone seems to have changed little in the wake of Pirelli’s product change for this weekend; Red Bull had an edge in single lap and long run pace over Mercedes with the rest following.
However Red Bull’s drivers suggested afterwards that Mercedes had possibly masked its single lap pace with a bit of extra fuel in the soft tyre runs this afternoon, believing them favourites again for pole position tomorrow.
Ferrari remain half a second off the ultimate pace after a troubled first day, which saw electrical problems blight Alonso’s start to the weekend.
Fernando Alonso endured two stoppages in this morning’s FP1 when trying to complete installation laps. The issue boiled down to an ECU problem that saw his car’s electronics malfunction and cause a jamming in the gearbox.
Therefore, he did not complete a lap until the afternoon and ended the day in sixth place with a time almost identical to that of Felipe Massa in seventh.
Red Bull had very strong long-run pace in the afternoon, particularly on the medium tyres, with Webber completing a twenty-two lap run on the medium tyre and lapping with good consistency. This comes as bad news to Ferrari and Alonso as their chances of making up their points deficit this weekend looks bleak on race pace alone.
“I wasn’t so happy with the car this morning and Mercedes were quick, but in the afternoon we were in better shape. We’ll see, but so far I am happy,” said Vettel.
Mercedes looked very strong on a green track in the morning, but were giving something away to Red Bull, especially in long run pace in the afternoon. They were losing time on the Red Bull over a longer stint as the tyres degraded, especially on the soft tyre.
Mercedes favoured the hard tyre at Silverstone, so with last week’s option tyre becoming this weekend’s prime compound Mercedes are likely to be one of those that is forced in to a three-stop race as Red Bull may be capable of just two stops, along with Ferrari, Lotus and Force India.
With Pirelli and its new specifications coming under intense scrutiny this weekend there were no signs of failures as the Italian company reverted to Kevlar-belted rear tyres and strict guidelines on tyre pressures and the prohibition of tyre-switching. The use of steel belts on the front and kevlar on the rear should mean front tyre warm up is good relative to rears, which should help some teams who have been struggling to balance the temperatures front and rear.
The use of Kevlar as the main structural frame of the tyre is thought to stop the failures that we saw last week as it is more maneuverable than the previous steel model and allows for a greater margin of operational factors.
“The steel belt was angled in one direction which is why, when you invert it, it actually goes into a point rather than being pushed along the top of the belt. That is why it creates a weakness.
“Kevlar is not as rigid as steel, and it also operates at lower temperatures, so it gives you greater margin from that point of view,” said Paul Hembrey, Pirelli Motorsport Director. He said yesterday evening on BBC Radio 5 Live that he was absolutely confident that the new specification of tyres would not fail in the way we saw at Silverstone.
Kevlar’s ability to operate at lower temperatures also comes as positive news. Since the steel band could not do this in the same way, the movement in the tyre at lower tyre pressures put excessive strain on the sidewalls and shoulder – causing more stress, and increasing the chances of a failure.
The chosen tyre compounds this weekend should play more in to the hands of Lotus than what was seen at Silverstone. Their race pace was second best to Red Bull and their qualifying simulations saw them take fourth and fifth on the day, with Romain Grosjean ending out Kimi Raikkonen.
Behind the Ferrari pairing, the top ten was completed by three Brits headed by Lewis Hamilton. After topping FP1 the Mercedes driver was unable to put a clean lap together on the soft tyre and from then turned his attentions to longer runs.
Jenson Button and Paul Di Resta completed the top ten for McLaren and Force India respectively, both over a second from Vettel’s pace.
GERMAN GRAND PRIX, Nurburgring, Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m30.416s 39
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m30.651s +0.235s 38
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m30.683s +0.267s 41
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m30.843s +0.427s 32
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m30.848s +0.432s 27
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.056s +0.640s 39
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.059s +0.643s 41
8. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.304s +0.888s 35
9. Jenson Button McLaren 1m31.568s +1.152s 37
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m31.797s +1.381s 40
11. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m31.824s +1.408s 34
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m31.855s +1.439s 42
13. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m32.055s +1.639s 39
14. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m32.086s +1.670s 36
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m32.495s +2.079s 39
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m32.762s +2.346s 44
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m32.879s +2.463s 35
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m32.880s +2.464s 36
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m33.695s +3.279s 38
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m33.804s +3.388s 40
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m34.017s +3.601s 10
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m34.667s +4.251s 39