Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheets during the first practice session for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit this morning. The McLaren driver lapped the brand new circuit in a time of 1m26.836s. Red Bull Racing took the next two positions with 2011 Champion Sebastian Vettel in second, and Mark Webber in third place. However, the difference between Hamilton and the Red Bulls was almost half-a-second. Even slower was fourth placed man Jenson Button, who lapped the circuit in a time of 1m28.394s, 1.558s slower than his team colleague Hamilton.
Karun Chandhok tried to make a historic debut for Team Lotus by leaving the pit lane to be the first ever Formula One driver on the new track, but was beaten by the Force India of Adrian Sutil, who apparently had the same idea.
Chandhok did manage to become the first driver to set a timed lap on the Buddh International Circuit and recorded a time of 1m52.148s on his first outing. The first session was red flagged after just five minutes as a stray dog was spotted on the track.
With 80 minutes still remaining practice resumed, but as most teams were just shaking down the car and checking the systems it took another 20 minutes before Narain Karthikeyan improved Chandhok’s time with almost seven seconds, the HRT did another lap and then put a time of 1m42.310s on the clock. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo was the third man to record a time and took second position. But those times were not really representative; it was Michael Schumacher who finally set the temporarily benchmark. The Briton had a lap of 1m38.658s on a still green and very dusty circuit.
For all drivers it was difficult to set a good time on a new circuit, but gradually the times went down. After 40 minutes Jaime Alguersuari was the fastest man on track and put his Toro Rosso on first spot and raised the benchmark with a time of 1m31.904s. His place was soon taken over by his team colleague Sebastien Buemi, but not much later it was Button who put his McLaren on top and recorded a time of 1m30.794s.
Being a new track it was almost inevitable a number of drivers ran wide while leaving a big cloud of dust behind them. The circuit had been thoroughly cleaned but off the racing line it was still dusty and tricky. Vettel also ran wide at Turn 5 but managed to get back on the track, again leaving a cloud of dust behind him.
Michael Schumacher finally broke the 1m30s barrier for Mercedes and after he had already taken over Button’s first place recorded a time of 1m28.656s, almost one second faster than Button. Not a happy start of the Indian Grand Prix for Fernando Alonso as he had to park his Ferrari after completing only four laps and reported to his team he had ‘lost drive’.
All drivers were on the soft tyre compound as they had been given an extra set of the yellow marked Pirellis to use on Friday only. One hour into the session Schumacher was leading the pack, and was followed by Hamilton in second place with a time of 1m29.227s, but not much later Button took over Schumacher’s first position with a lap of 1m28.501s, just 0.1s faster than the German.
Button didn’t enjoy his first place very long as it was this time Hamilton who again raised the benchmark and put a time of 1m27.515s on the clock. With 20 minutes to go Hamilton was leading, followed by Webber, Vettel, Button, Schumacher and Buemi.
Further down were the Force Indias and Saubers, Adrian Sutil was the best of the rest and would ultimately take eighth place overall, while Paul di Resta finished practice in 11th spot. A busy morning for Kamui Kobayashi, who took 10th place after completing 29 laps.
With just 10 minutes to go Alguersuari lost control at Turn 9 and ended up in the wall and yellow flags were waved by the marshals. The Spaniard had just been a little too fast at the exit of the corner, ran wide and slid sideways off the track. Also Pastor Maldonado had technical problems with his Williams and after an engine failure had to park his car, causing more yellow flags.
As yellow flags were not being waved it became somewhat difficult to put in a very fast lap, but nevertheless Hamilton used the opportunity to finally put his McLaren at the top and his time would not be beaten anymore, and he had the honor to be on top of the very first Formula One practice session at the Indian circuit.
Vettel and Webber were second and third, Button was fourth and was followed by Schumacher and Nice Romberg who took fifth and sixth position respectively. Felipe Massa had no technical problems and was seventh with a time of 1m28.644; 1.808s slower than Hamilton. With Sutil in eighth place, Buemi took ninth position and Kobayashi completed the top ten.
Chandhok was the fastest Indian driver on home soil and took 19th position, while Karthikeyan took his HRT to 21st place.
All-in-all a good start of the Indian Grand Prix on a circuit that was hot and dusty, a not so lucky start for Alonso in particular, who lost valuable track time due to technical woes, and this afternoon drivers will once again venture onto the Buddh International Circuit for another 90 minutes of free practice.