By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Mark Webber topped the Formula One time sheets during the first free practice session for the British Grand Prix today. The Australian recorded a time of 1m46.603s during a soggy practice session at Silverstone, while his team colleague and championship leader Sebastian Vettel was 2.191s slower and landed a 13th position. Webber experienced a problem at the closing stages of practice and had to park his RB7 just after he had set fastest time.
The rain also made it impossible to make a prediction about how much time teams have lost as a result of the off-throttle diffuser ban, but it looks like Red Bull Racing is still ahead of its rivals. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with regard to the rule changes,” Webber said. “I don’t expect it to change the pecking order too much, but we’ll have to wait until qualifying to find out for sure.”
Michael Schumacher was second quickest in the wet for Mercedes GP, and put a time of 1m47.263s on the clock, a respectable 0.660s slower than Webber. The German had been in the top six all morning before he took second place just after the chequered flag was waved. Other Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg took sixth position, 1.155s slower than the leader.
The Formula One veterans proved experience is all during a wet practice session, as Rubens Barrichello took third place behind his ex-team colleague seven-times World Champion Schumacher. Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado drove the other Williams to 14th position right behind Vettel.
The fastest rookie of the morning was Sergio Perez, who took his Sauber to fourth place after he had, like many others, paid a visit to the gravel trap on the rain soaked slippery circuit. Kamui Kobayahi recorded the first crash of the weekend when he 74 minutes into the session crashed his Sauber at the final corner before the new start/finish straight. The Japanese driver had put his rear wheel on the painted kerbs and once on the wet grass slid helplessly into the barrier, the right side of his car was badly damaged. Practice wasn’t red-flagged as the marshals very quickly retrieved the stranded Sauber.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was the fastest of the Ferrari drivers and took fifth position on intermediate tyres, while Fernando Alonso surprisingly was 0.599s slower and finished in seventh position.
McLaren‘s Lewis Hamilton took eighth position after completing 21 laps, while Jenson Button, although he had a trouble-free practice, did not get further than 15th position behind Maldonado. The Briton had complained about understeer earlier in the morning, and also reported his rear tyres were degrading fast.
German Nico Hulkenberg this time took over Adrian Sutil’s Force India for the morning session, and landed ninth position with a time of 1m48.598s. Scot Paul di Resta took 11th position in the second Force India, while Jaime Alguersuari was also quick in the wet and took tenth place for Toro Rosso.
His Swiss team colleague Sebastien Buemi lost control of his car after 30 minutes after locking up his wheel at Vale, made a detour through the gravel trap and had to return to the pits for a thorough check of his car. He finally finished in 12th position, just ahead of Vettel.
Further down the field both Lotus Renault drivers Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov took a very unimpressive 16th and 17th place respectively. Behind Kobayashi who had set a 18th time before he crashed, the two Team Lotus drivers Jarno Trulli and Karun Chandhok, who had taken over Heikki Kovalainen’s car for the morning, completed the top 20, Trulli scored 19th and Chandhok 20th place.
Marussia Virgin drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio finished in 21st and 23rd place, while after completing 20 laps, HRT driver Vitantoinio Liuzzi took 22nd place, while rookie Daniel Ricciardo, who makes his race debut at Siverstone this weekend recorded the slowest time of the day 1m54.334s, and thus was 7.731s slower than Webber.