On the final lap of the FIA Formula One second practice for the Grand Prix of Europe, the two-time World Champion laid down the fastest lap of 1:39.334 to end up on top of the combined Friday practices. Sebastian Vettel was using the rear-end upgrades. Along with a new rear wing, the re-design of the sidepods were very noticeable.
“We have tried some new parts on the car today, but the lap times have not really allowed us to have a fair conclusion of them yet. It was important to have a clean practice today and I’m happy with what we did,” said Vettel. “It’s close between the teams and it’s not yet clear what the right strategy is for Sunday, hopefully we can make a step forward tomorrow.”
While Vettel shined, his Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, started off as one of the fastest in the early runs but by the end practice, the Australian was ninth with a 1:39.901. Webber said, “The car’s working well, but there are areas where we can improve. I was happier on the harder tyre, the balance on the soft tyres wasn’t great today, but we’ll work on that tonight.”
Second today on the Valencia Street Circuit was Nico of Hulkenberg, who had a best lap of 1:39.465 in his Force India powered by Mercedes; just 0.131 slower than Red Bull Renault’s hot-shoe. Sixth ended in the lap of Paul di Resta in his Force India-Mercedes with a 1:39.700.
The team’s third driver, Jules Bianchi, was able to put down laps of experience in the morning practice. Hulkenberg was on track back in his car for the afternoon, and he said, “I feel quite comfortable with the car and we managed some good runs on both tyres compounds today. I think the key factor for the rest of the weekend will be managing the tyres if the temperatures increase as expected and making sure we can deliver the same level of performance.”
Utilizing his Ferrari power plant, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi was third with his best lap of 1:39.595. The Japanese had a hydraulic problem during the second practice which prevented him from doing long runs. He commented, “Tyre management will be the key here and this depends not only on the driving, but also on the car’s set up. For the race it is important to get everything right in this regard so that the tyres don’t drop off too quickly, but tomorrow first we have to focus on qualifying.”
Fourth for the day was the seven times world champion. Michael Schumacher turned a lap time of 1:39.601 for the Mercedes team. Nico Rosberg made it into the top 10 with his best lap of 1:39.926. “The second session initially started with an issue with the clutch but it turned out very ok. Of course we are aware that it will be a challenge for everybody, especially to keep the rear tyres alive but this is as expected. Let's see what we can do tomorrow,” Schumacher said.
Williams Renault’s Bruno Senna laid down a 1:39.644 to land fifth. His teammate Pastor Maldonado was the fastest in the morning practice as the teams worked on setup and tyre selection for the circuit on a cool day in Spain. The Williams driver clocked a time of 1:40.897; 0.083 seconds faster than Vettel. Senna sat out the first practice while the team’s third driver, Valtteri Bottas was back in the car.
However, Maldonado could only muster a time lap of 1:40.075 in the afternoon session which placed him 13th for the day.
Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer commented. “All three drivers performed well with Pastor being particularly strong throughout the first session. Having been out of the car for a couple of races Valtteri quickly got up to speed and gave us good feedback on his test programme during this morning's session. Bruno then completed a good second session. “
There was on moment for the fans to cheer when their local hero, Fernando Alonso topped the timesheets just prior to the flags waving due to an incident on the circuit. His best time in his Ferrari was seventh best with a 1:39.733.
The main incident of the day was Pedro de la Rosa who lost it on the Turn 13 kerbs and slammed his HRT Cosworth car into the tyre wall.
While rumours continue that Kimi Raikkonen is on the outs with the Lotus-Renault team, his teammate Romain Grosjean continued to set fast laps. Romain Grosjean had a best lap of 1:39.868 for the eighth best lap time. The Finn was 11th with a 1:39.945.
Missing in the top 5, let alone the top 10, was neither of the two McLaren-Mercedes racers. Taking 12th with a 1:39.990 was Jenson Button, who outdid his teammate Lewis Hamilton. The current points leader’s best lap time was 14rh with a 1:40.147.
Button remains positive with the changes the team has made. “I’m confident that the changes we’re now making will make a difference – but whether that will be enough to challenge at the front is still an unknown, because the field is so extremely competitive right now.”
Hamilton was not in a positive mood and commented, “We didn’t have a brilliant day today – it was a bit of a struggle to be honest – but I’m quite confident that we can make changes overnight and get back into the hunt tomorrow.”
Laying down rubber to break in the street circuit is critical, and with rain predicted, the drivers might face a “green track” for the final practice before qualifying tomorrow.