Local hero Fernando Alonso gave the Barcelona crowds something to cheer about in Friday's second practice for the Spanish Grand Prix when his McLaren finished at the top with the fastest time of the day. Alonso's 1:21.397 was four tenths faster than teammate Lewis Hamilton had been in the morning.
"A great start to my home Grand Prix with a trouble free Friday practice," said the reigning champion. "We went through the usual programme of tyre evaluation and set-up work, but had a pretty good balance early on. We have definitely improved the car further since Bahrain. I look forward to the rest of the weekend and really want to do my best for all the supporters."
Renault put in some low fuel laps later in the afternoon, with result that Giancarlo Fisichella was second and Heikki Kovalainen third. Fisichella was just under three tenths off Alonso, although Kovalainen would probably have beaten his teammate to second if he hadn't spun on his last fast lap.
"As we made changes to the car, we managed to improve the set-up a little bit, but the handling is still slightly inconsistent," Fisichella commented. "But to be honest, that is what we expect at the moment. My feeling is that we are possibly a little bit closer to the cars in front of us, even if we are clearly not fast enough to be second in the times on speed alone."
Kovalainen thinks it was a positive start to the weekend. "We did our programme, everything ran smoothly, and we improved the car balance a bit from where we started," he said. "So we have a good starting point for tomorrow in the final practice session... The target has to be to qualify in the top ten but, just like at the last three races, it is going to be tough."
Felipe Massa was the lead Ferrari in fourth while teammate Kimi Raikkonen was sixth. Massa was six and a half tenths off Alonso and Raikkonen a further two tenths astray. They were split by Hamilton, who had topped the times earlier in the session but then appeared to fall off the lead pace a little.
Nico Rosberg put in a good performance for Williams with sixth but Alex Wurz, the second of the Grove outfit's cars, was down in 15th, half a second off Rosberg. Nick Heidfeld was the quicker of the two BMW Saubers in eighth and teammate Robert Kubica was 11th.
Red Bull had Mark Webber ninth and David Coulthard 12th, while Scott Speed had a much improved afternoon. The American's Toro Rosso got in between the McLarens for second earlier in the session and stayed in the top six for some time before gradually being beaten back to finish a still respectable 10th. Teammate Tonio Liuzzi was 16th.
Speed was pleased with the performance of the car but not about to over-rate his chances. "We definitely seem to be more competitive this weekend, although my tenth place today doesn't mean much," he remarked. "The developments we tried at last week's test, especially those on the aero front are a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go to make up for lost time this winter."
The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello finished nose to tail in 13th and 14th respectively, around a second and a half off Alonso's top time. After having both cars in the top 10 in the morning the Toyotas were nearly two seconds down in the afternoon, Ralf Schumacher 17th and Jarno Trulli 18th.
Super Aguri also didn't repeat its morning pace, Takuma Sato 19th and Anthony Davidson 20th. The Spykers rounded off the times with Adrian Sutil 21st and Christijan Albers 22nd. Yes, Friday practice reports are rather truncated this season but you don't really want to read an hour and half's worth of tyre work, do you?
Despite Ferrari's dominance at the Circuit de Catalunya during testing McLaren so far seems to have the edge. Meanwhile BMW's usual best-of-the-rest slot has been usurped by Renault. Still, as ever, there's no guarantee things will stay the same. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Fisichella, Kovalainen, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Heidfeld.