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Button heads tight Spanish GP field as Red Bull and Lotus challenge

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Button heads tight Spanish GP field as Red Bull and Lotus challenge
May 11, 2012, 3:14 PM

It's going to be a very closely contested Spanish Grand Prix, with McLaren looking like the pace setters but Red Bull and Mercedes there on qualify...

It's going to be a very closely contested Spanish Grand Prix, with McLaren looking like the pace setters but Red Bull and Mercedes there on qualifying pace and Lotus right right there on race pace, judging from today's practice sessions.

Jenson Button set the fastest time in Friday's second free practice session, ahead of Vettel's Red Bull and Rosberg's Mercedes, but it was the performance of the Lotus cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean (5th and 6th today), which caught the eye on the long runs. They both managed long runs on the soft Pirelli tyre which were both fast and consistent and hint at them challenging for the win on Sunday as they did in Bahrain. Lower temperatures are forecast for Sunday, so that could make things more difficult for them.

The high track temperatures certainly helped. It was 44 degrees for most of the afternoon, which suits the Lotus and they will be hoping that the temperatures stay high for Sunday.

“It was a positive afternoon," said Jenson Button. "I did a good lap on the Option tyre, the car is running well, and our upgrades seem to be working. But there are still some improvements to be made. There are a lot of quick cars out there, but, aerodynamically, I think we’ve got a strong car."

There was a lot of expectation going into this weekend about the heavily revised Ferrari; the team have at least six major changes on the car this weekend, including a new nose, front wing details, turning vanes, sidepods, exhausts, rear wing and floor.

Alonso was managing expectations yesterday in his press briefings, saying that this was only the first step to closing up the gap to the front runners, which had been around 1.2 to 1.5 seconds per lap. It's likely that the gap will turn out to be around 0.9s, once we see the outright pace in qualifying. Alonso was only 14th today, as he had to abort his first lap on his soft tyre run and set the time on his second lap, when the tyres were past their best in sector three. Team mate Massa was 11th fastest on 1m 24.4s a second off the McLaren's pace.

The Ferrari's race pace was stronger and Alonso said after practice that he will be closer to the front runners than it looks. I also think he's targeting being closer to the winner at the end of the race than he has been in the first races of this year. He was almost a minute behind Vettel in Bahrain.

"First impressions are positive," said Alonso. "Some parts worked as we expected, others less so, but broadly speaking, it confirms the tendency we had already seen in Mugello last week, which is that the data emerging form the wind tunnel has been been confirmed on track."

Lewis Hamilton also had a messy lap on new soft tyres, with lock ups, he set his fastest time on the second lap, so there's more to come from him.

It looks like the first lap is the fastest on the soft tyre, so it's important for drivers to get it right on that one lap. Also the gap between the soft and hard tyres looks like it's around 1.2 seconds in qualifying. This will come down in the race.

There are many changes and updates on the cars this weekend, as one would expect for the first European race of the season, especially after a three day test like the one in Mugello last week. Many of the updates we saw there are on the cars here, some are not, like the revised exhausts on the Williams and Caterham, which ran in Mugello but are not on the car here.

There's a lot of emphasis across the board on the front wings, improving the air flow to the rest of the car and on exhaust positioning. There's no sign yet of anyone copying the Mercedes double DRS system.

After the session the drivers met to discuss the controversial moves by Nico Rosberg in Bahrain and Lewis Hamilton overtaking him by going off track. It seems that the issue was hotly debated and nothing has changed for the moment, but FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting will discuss with stewards before Sunday's race whether they should take a zero tolerance to taking advantage by going off track, or exercise discretion, depending on circumstances. Schumacher argued for the former, Vettel argued for the latter.

For all the latest news from Barcelona, including drivers' reactions to the day's practice and breaking news stories go to JA on F1 Connect

SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, Free Practice 2

1. Jenson Button McLaren 1m23.399 38

2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m23.563s + 0.164 38

3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.771s + 0.372 41

4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m23.909s + 0.510 32

5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m23.918s + 0.519 32

6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m23.964s + 0.565 37

7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m24.065s + 0.666 34

8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.080s + 0.681 36

9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m24.214s + 0.815 41

10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m24.365s + 0.966 22

11. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m24.418s + 1.019 35

12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m24.422s + 1.023 32

13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m24.468s + 1.069 40

14. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.600s + 1.201 33

15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.688s + 1.289 30

16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m24.733s + 1.334 34

17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m24.769s + 1.370 37

18. Bruno Senna Williams 1m25.047s + 1.648 42

19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.296s + 2.897 36

20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m26.740s + 3.341 35

21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m27.314s + 3.915 27

22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m27.664s + 4.265 30

23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m28.235s + 4.836 26

24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT no time 2
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