By Max Davies, F1 Correspondent
Continuing their dominant start to the 2011 Formula One season, Red Bull Racing set the pace once more in the opening free practice session for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.
With Mark Webber topping the time sheets ahead of team mate and defending world champion Sebastian Vettel, the competition heading into the fifth round of the season is set to reach fever pitch with the majority of the teams all hoping their various upgrades will reduce the gap to the pace-setting Red Bulls.
Under a clear blue sky, Webber set his time of 1m25.142s early on and was never headed throughout the remainder of the session as he shifted focus to race-day set up. Championship leader Vettel had a rather low-key introduction to the weekend by ending over a second shy of Webber.
Nico Rosberg took fourth for Mercedes GP ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in fourth. With a new contract extension in his pocket, the Spaniard was in fine form around the Circuit de Catalunya - his adoring fans cheering their hero to the rafters every time they caught a glimpse of the double world champion.
A surprise in fifth was the rookie sensation Sergio Perez in the Sauber ahead of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher in the second Mercedes GP in seventh.
Renault’s Nick Heidfeld was eighth with Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello rounding out the top ten for McLaren and Williams respectively.
Red Bull protégé Daniel Ricciardo made the most of his opportunity as Friday test driver for Toro Rosso by finishing the session in 12th, just behind Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault but ahead of Pastor Maldonado in the Williams who maintained his tradition of giving the marshal’s plenty of flag-waving practice by pitching his car into the gravel trap at Turn 12. Although he managed to avoid hitting the barrier, the Venezuelan was forced to abandon his car and sit out the remainder of the session.
Force India team mates Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil were 14th and 15th ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and the second Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi. Jaime Alguersuari took 19th in the Toro Rosso ahead of the Team Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen who in turn headed the Marussia Virgin pairing of Jerome d'Ambrosio and Timo Glock. Jarno Trulli took 23rd and split the Hispania’s of Tonio Luizzi and Narain Karthikeyan who finished the opening practice session last in 24th position, over six seconds off the pace of Webber.