Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel finished FP1 top of the timesheets at the Buddh International Circuit. His time of 1:26.683 was just under two-tenths faster than that of his nearest challenger, team-mate Mark Webber. For Vettel it extends an extraordinary run of dominance at this event: At the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2011, he finished both FP1 and FP2 second fastest, since then he’s been top in every practice session, qualified on pole twice, won both races and led every lap. On the back of five consecutive victories in 2013, he didn’t give his opposition even the faintest cause for optimism this morning.
Behind the Red Bulls, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg finished the session third quickest, followed by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and then Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes. The McLarens took sixth and seventh with Jenson Button in front of Sergio Pérez. Then came Felipe Massa for Ferrari, Nico Hülkenberg for Sauber and Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten for Williams.
The session followed a familiar pattern: everyone ran an early installation before returning to the garage to wait out the first half-hour. Daniel Ricciardo was the exception: mechanical problems left him stranded into the garage, not to emerge until 35 minutes had elapsed.
By that time Pérez was completing his first run, going out 24 minutes into the session and setting a benchmark time of 1:28.207, with the track entirely to himself. As he returned to the pits more car started to go out, and by the halfway mark Pérez led a field of ten cars with times on the board – though none of this season’s front-runners were among them.
That changed as Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus all got down to serious work. Button briefly held the lead before Rosberg took over at the top and then, with 50 minutes elapsed, Vettel rose to the top with 1:27.196 on his second flying lap – a full seven-tenths quicker than the Mercedes. Rosberg snatched the place back briefly but Vettel was still getting up to speed and regained top spot as he came around again.
Meanwhile, attention was focussed on Fernando Alonso, crawling around the Buddh International Circuit with his Ferrari seemingly stuck in second gear. The Spaniard limped back into the pits, his session over. His team later confirmed he had a gearbox issue.
The final half-hour of FP1 saw cars pushing harder as the seldom-used circuit rubbered-in. It lead to a slew of off-track moments with drivers struggling for front-end grip. There were also spins for Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and the Force India of James Calado, the latter substituting for Paul di Resta. No-one looked like challenging Vettel but Webber did manage to get ahead of Rosberg to ensure Red Bull finished the session with a one-two on the timesheet.