Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Mark Webber was quickest for Red Bull during the first free practice session for the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace this morning. Webber put a fastest lap of 1m13.811s on the board which he scored during the final stages of the session on a dry, warm and sunny track. He was closely followed by McLaren driver Jenson Button, who was just 0.014s slower, and Lewis Hamilton who took third spot with a time of 1m13.961s.
Drivers were in a hurry to get on track for quick shake-down of the car, it was Michael Schumacher who recorded the first timed lap with 1m19.730s, a time quickly beaten by Lotus Renault Friday driver Romain Grosjean who lowered the benchmark to 1m17.368s, still not a very representative time and would soon be beaten by the top ten drivers.
All drivers had two extra sets of experimental hard Pirelli tyres for evaluation purposes today, both sets have to be returned to the FIA after the second free practice session. Also part of the first practice session was the testing of new 2012 components; McLaren tried a new front wing, as was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who also tested a new front wing.
After some 25 minutes Felipe Massa was quickest on track and recorded a time of 1m15.774s in his Ferrari, but a few laps later his time was improved by Hamilton who recorded a lap time of 1m15.078s, seven tenths of a second faster than the Brazilian. At that moment Hamilton was leading, followed by Button, Massa and Jaime Alguersuari was fifth for Toro Rosso.
Halfway into the session it was 2010 and 2011 World Champion Sebastian Vettel who topped the time sheets with a time of 1m14.025s, his Australian team mate Webber immediately responded and attacked the time, but had to abort his fast lap when he made a mistake at the Senna S corner, right after the start/finish line.
First one to get into trouble was Pastor Maldonado who had a moment when he ran wide at Turn 4, but the Venezuelan was able to get his Williams back on track again and could continue, and after 90 minutes finally landed 16th position, some two seconds off the pace, while his Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello was a bit faster and took 13th place.
With a little over 30 minutes still remaining, Kamui Kobayashi spun his Sauber at Turn 10, crossed through the grass but was also able to continue. After completing 31 laps on the Interlagos circuit the Japanese driver took 15th position, while his Mexican team colleague Sergio Perez took 17th sport behind Maldonado.
Czech Jan Charouz made his ‘Friday morning driver’ debut for HRT and replaced regular driver Vitantonio Liuzzi this morning, but the Italian will be back at the wheel for the afternoon practice session. Charouz did the best he could but finished the morning on 24th and last place, behind Daniel Ricciardo in the second HRT, who took 23rd place.
Other regular Friday morning driver Nico Hulkenberg took over Adrian Sutil’s Force India and the young German was the fastest of the Friday morning drivers finishing on a very impressive eighth place, while Paul di Resta behind the wheel of the second Force India took ninth place.
Also Jean-Eric Vergne was present this morning and took over Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso, the young Frenchman was not really as quick as he had been in Abu Dhabi and finally landed 18th position after 90 minutes of track time. Alguersuari in the second Toro Rosso took 11th spot, 1.567s slower than fastest man Webber.
Grosjean finished the morning in 12th position, while his team mate Brazilian Bruno Senna took 14th place after completing 32 laps on his home circuit. Also Liuz Razia was in the car of Jarno Trulli this morning, but the 22-year old Brazilian was almost one second a lap slower than Heikki Kovalainen, who steered his Team Lotus car to 19th place, and Razia took 20th position.
Alonso still hadn’t recorded a time after an hour as he was busy testing the new wing, but the Spaniard finally put a lap of 1m15.099s on the clock, fast enough for sixth place at the time. He kept improving his time but had to be satisfied with sixth place overall after he had completed 26 laps.
Just a few minutes before the end of the session, Alonso had to park his Ferrari due to an engine problem and had to walk back to the Ferrari garage. Massa was faster today; he landed fifth position right behind Vettel who eventually took fourth place.
For the afternoon session, Liuzzi, Trulli, Buemi, Sutil and Vitaly Petrov will be back in the cockpit for another 90-minute practice session at the Interlagos circuit.