Lisa Davidson, F1 correspondent
Button tops in Practice 2 – Alonzo pleases home crowd in Practice 1
McLaren’s Jenson Button edged out Sebastien Vettel with a fastest lap time of 1.23.399 in Friday’s afternoon’s practice session at the Circuit Cataluña for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix. Reigning World Champion Vettel driving for Red Bull posted a marginally slower time of 1.23.563. Third was Renault’s Nico Rosberg whose fast lap was a 1.23.771. These three drivers represent three of the four winning drivers thus far in this competitive 2012 FIA Formula One season. Australia’s victor Button is joined by Rosberg, winner of the China race, while Vettel finally got his first win of 2012 when he took the checkers at Bahrain two weeks ago. It thus follows that these fastest three drivers all stand a good chance to take the pole during Saturday’s qualifying session.
“It was a positive afternoon,” said Button who was on the Pirelli Option tyre in practice one. “In P2, we also started to find a way to get the Prime to work, but then, later in the session, we couldn’t quite get back to that sweet-spot. If we can solve these issues with the Prime and get it into its correct working range, I think we can be quite competitive this weekend.”
Friday morning’s slower session, by contrast, featured Spain’s favorite son Fernando Alonzo recording a fast lap of 1.24.430, to the immense excitement of the expectedly partisan live crowd. Vettel was again in P2, with a fast lap of 1.24.808, which demonstrates that the Red Bull engineers have worked out many of the bugs which plagued the talented German in the early days of this season. Third place was claimed by Sauber’s Kamui Kobyashi with a 1.24.912, who commented, “It was a good first day here for us. The long runs looked okay with both the hard and the soft tyre compounds. However, I think for qualifying we should improve the balance of the car. We have had a smooth day and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Tire management is expected to again play a crucial factor in both qualifying and the race itself. Most teams utilized both the hard and soft tires throughout both sessions. For Lotus rookie driver Romain Grosjean, who recorded 7th and 6th fastest practice times “The balance felt strong on both tyres and we were able to complete long runs to give us valuable tyre data for Sunday. I’m happy with the performance of the car even when the tyres are nearer the end of their performance life which is a good sign for this weekend.”
Also playing an important part of this F1 racing weekend is the fact that nearly all the teams do a substantial amount of testing at this track north of Barcelona. Therefore all of the drivers, even the rookies, have some knowledge of the track, which could mean a more exciting qualifying session and race. The weather is warm and balmy, so hydration will also be very important for the teams and their performance on track. Also, according to Red Bull’s Vettel “The wind played a role today, you could see some cars going off the track and the asphalt temperatures can go high here which makes the car slide. It’s similar here to last year and it’s likely we will see a few stops on Sunday during the race.”
Qualifying will take place at 2 PM Barcelona Time and 5 AM Eastern Time Saturday and will be broadcast on Speed TV.