Vettel sets the pace for Indian Grand Prix Friday practices

Sebastian Vettel was hot in New Delhi today, setting the top time in both Friday practices for this weekend’s FIA Formula One Indian Grand Prix. With his flying lap of 1:26.221 in his Red Bull Renault, the two-time defending champion hopes to leave here with his fourth-consecutive grand prix victory.

Second fastest on the constantly changing Buddh international Circuit was Red Bull’s Mark Webber, just over one-tenth off the pace of his teammate. The Australian’s best was a 1:26.339 which gave him the top sport momentarily.

We’ve had worse Fridays, so I am happy.

Sebastian Vettel

On the track conditions, Vettel explained: “Friday’s are always difficult with so many things changing. The track improvement was quite big today, it was dusty to start and improved lap by lap, so I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow the order is different, but we’ve had worse Fridays, so I am happy. We need to keep working and improve a little bit overnight.”

Vettel’s rival for the championship was not far off the pace. Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third on the day with a 1:26.820. The Spaniard held down the top time in the second practice opening minutes on the Pirelli hard tyres; ahead of Vettel by 0.246 seconds for a short time.

“This is an interesting circuit: after the longest straight, there’s a combination of high speed corners which are very nice to drive. Today the track was still very dirty, which is usually the case at new tracks that aren’t used very often," said Alonso who added on a positive note, "Tomorrow, when it will deliver more grip, it will be even more fun."

Behind the top three were the Mercedes, Lotus and McLaren drivers. Lewis Hamilton set fast laps in the early going, but as the track improved so did his rivals. In the end it was Nico Rosberg for Mercedes who grabbed the fourth best time. The German’s best was a 1:27.022; eight-tenths off the pace of Vettel.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1

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“We learned a lot in the two practice sessions today and found some good set-up directions, so it was a decent day. Fourth place is not our realistic position at the moment but I am confident that we're looking a little better here than at the previous two races,” said Rosberg.

In his Lotus-Renault, Kimi Raikkonen was just shy of Rosberg. The Finn turned his best lap at 1:27.030.

Hamilton ended sixth with his best lap time of 1:27.131; the McLaren-Mercedes driver was 0.910 of a second slower than Vettel. The Briton does not hesitate in making comments that leave others to wonder what is really going on in the McLaren camp as he said, “It was quite a positive day – on my side of the garage, at least.”

Yet not far off the pace of his McLaren teammate, Jenson Button was able to lay down a 1:27.182 to take the seventh fastest practice time. Button explained what went wrong for him which explains Hamilton’s comment. Said Button, “It hasn’t been a perfect day. Our lap-times in the first session were okay, but we couldn’t really get the Option [tyre] working in FP2 – perhaps that was down to a temperature issue. Then I had a gearshift problem during my long run in the afternoon. The team is currently looking into it – hopefully, we’ll have it sorted by tomorrow.”

On his long run, Hamilton commented, “We’re not quite quick enough yet, but tyre durability and our long-run pace both looked quite good. In fact, I was very happy with the long run. If we continue in that direction, we’ll hopefully be strong in the race.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India F1
Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India F1

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For the Sahara Force India team powered by Mercedes, Nico Hulkenberg was more than one second off the pace of Vettel, but he was in the top 10 with his best lap of 1:27.233; placing the German eighth. Perhaps more importantly for Hulkenberg is the news leak that he has apparently landed the Sauber-Ferrari seat for the 2013 season.

“It was my first experience of the Buddh circuit today and I have to say they have done a really nice job. There’s a good flow to the lap and the second sector is very technical and challenging. The programme for me today was quite straightforward because we managed to do everything we wanted. I completed a decent long run on the soft tyres this afternoon and I think we are quite well prepared going into tomorrow,” said Hulkenberg.

Romain Grosjean continues to be fast this year, but he has been reprimanded for his starts several times this year. He was ninth quickest today with a time of 1:27.397 in his Lotus-Renault. The Frenchman still wants to have top 10, or better, in qualifying. At the Korean Grand Prix, he was noticeably slow coming off the line. This morning he was quoted by the Times of India news agency: "We are happy to lose a couple of places at the start to avoid accidents; it's not the end of the world.”

Nailing down the 10th best lap of the day was Williams-Renault’s Bruno Senna. The Brazilian clocked a 1:27.738 after an earlier spin in Turn 4. “We were working hard to get the optimum car set-up today so we had to try a number of things to get the right balance during the second session. On the whole we have had a very productive day and completed what we had set out to do. Now we need to work on improving our set-up ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying,” he said.

During practice, it is normal to see a few spins as the drivers and their engineers work on any aerodynamic changes, tyre combinations, and a variety of other tests items. They also run race simulations using both short and full fuel loads.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari
Felipe Massa, Ferrari

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However, it was not a good day for Felipe Massa who just renewed his contract with the Scuderia Ferrari team. First he went off track at the 11th turn to mow down the Astroturf. The Brazilian changed to the Pirelli yellow soft option tyres. Others followed suit.

“It was a rather difficult day, especially in the afternoon. The first session went well and we were able to do everything we had planned. But in the second one, when we switched from the Hard to the Soft, the balance of the car was no longer the best and it was becoming very difficult to drive, to such an extent that I ended up spinning," said Massa.

However his second spin at Turn 9 caused Massa to inform the team that he had “a very strange balance” in his Ferrari. Thus they parked him once they noted that his tyres were damaged; not just the second set but the first set as well. The team will work on finding out why before Saturday practice.

Tomorrow’s practice will be the one that will show who is ready to contest for the pole. Other notable drivers who were not in the top 10 today included Michael Schumacher for Mercedes, and both Sauber-Ferrari’s Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nico Rosberg , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Kamui Kobayashi , Nico Hulkenberg , Sergio Perez , Romain Grosjean
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Williams
Article type Practice report
Tags alonso, ferrari, india, red bull, renault, vettel, webber