Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were the quickest drivers during the second free practice session for the Korean Grand Prix at Yeongam. The McLaren pair were 1.7 seconds faster then the number three Sebastian Vettel, who recorded a time of 1m52.646s. The second session was just like the first session, hampered by rain and many drivers had some hairy moments when they spun off on the soaking wet Yeongam circuit. Nico Rosberg lost control of his Mercedes and ran wide at the first corner straight into the path of Jaime Alguersuari who was just exiting the pit lane for a quick lap in his Toro Rosso. The damage was limited but it was the sign for others to take it somewhat easier at the brand new Yeongam circuit.
The fastest time during the first practice session was posted by Michael Schumacher for Mercedes GP, while the conditions were even worse and many teams decided to stay in the garage afraid of seriously damaging the car in the atrocious weather. In the final 30 minutes of P1 drivers decided to go out to test the car in these rainy conditions. Sebastian Vettel, the new 2011 World Champion, initially set a time of 2m02.784s but his compatriot Schumacher pipped him with just 0.056s
Scottish rookie Paul di Resta ventured into the unknown as he had never driven on this circuit but nevertheless posted the third fastest time, just 0.128s slower than Schumacher’s time. German Adrian Sutil followed his Force India colleague in fourth place with a lap of 2m03.141s. The big guns stayed in the garage longer but had to go out to test the conditions as rain had also been forecasted for the afternoon and for Saturday’s qualifying, and teams had to find a good wet weather setup for their car.
Hamilton was seventh in his McLaren while Rosberg in the second Mercedes was eight, albeit a little over 1.5 seconds slower than his seven-times World Champion team mate Schumacher. Both Saubers also seemed to like the rainy conditions as Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez took sixth and ninth position respectively. Mark Webber took the second Red Bull to tenth place with a time of 2m05.183s which was 2.399s slower than Schumacher.
Further down the order the lap times dropped even faster and were not really representative as the only objective was to gather data from the car rather than going for the fastest lap time. The two Friday morning drivers Team Lotus’ Karun Chandhok and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne made the most of the opportunity and landed 11th and 13th time, especially for Vergne a good result as he had never driven the Toro Rosso in the wet, and had no experience on the Yeongam circuit either.
Pastor Maldonado was the fastest of the Williams drivers and took 12th spot, while Brazilian Rubens Barrichello took 14th.
Both HRT drivers took possession of 15th and 16th place, while both Marussia Virgin drivers Timo Glock and Jerome d’Ambrosio completed the top 16. Both Ferraris also stayed in the garage but later did one installation lap to check if all systems worked and went back to the garage without completing a timed lap. The same was the case with the two Lotus Renaults of Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov, they did a quick check and parked their car in the garage. Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button did the same and posted no time during the first free practice.
The second practice session was not much different, but as the rain subsided it was expected the circuit would dry out quickly, but it didn’t and the conditions in the end were the same as in the morning. But with a slightly drier circuit the lap times soon improved compared to the morning session, and the times were more representative.
Red Bull was first on track and started to post some quick laps with Vettel being the fastest of the pair. But soon McLaren joined the action and Button and Hamilton were then dicing for first and second place as they tried their luck on the intermediates. Thus proved to be the right choice as Hamilton finally after 90 minutes posted the fastest time of the day with a lap of 1m50.828s, while Button wasn’t too far off and was just 0,104s slower and took second place.
After lapping the circuit 30 times Vettel took third place but his Red Bull RB7 was 1.818s off the pace. Fernando Alonso meanwhile had also ventured onto the track in his Ferrari and he found the right pace and right setup for the appalling conditions and put the fourth fastest time on the clock, also on the intermediate Pirellis. Webber took the second Red Bull to fifth position, while Alguersuari of Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso did an excellent job and despite his little coming together with Rosberg took sixth position when the finish flag was waved. Felipe Massa was the last driver to post a time less than three seconds behind the leader with a time of 1m53.707s.
In the afternoon it was Rosberg who was the fastest of the Mercedes team and the German took eighth place, despite his little accident with Alguersuari. Sebastian Buemi was ninth in the second Toro Rosso, while di Resta took last spot in the top ten. His German colleague Sutil was four-tenths of a second slower than the Scot and finished the day in 12th.
Unlike in the morning both Lotus Renault drivers did give acte de presence in the afternoon and Petrov took 11th place, while Senna was 15th, almost one second slower than Russian. Also on the list of drivers slower than four seconds than the fastest time were Barrichello and Schumacher, who took 13th and 14th place.
Sauber drivers Perez and Kobayahi were 15th and 16th this time, and even further down the field the lap times dropped considerably, Team Lotus drivers Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli were over five seconds off the pace, and landed 19th and 20th place.
The last four places were for Glock and d’Ambrosio for Marussia Virgin and HRT drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Vitantonio Liuzzi took their usual spot and finished 23 and 24th. With just ten minutes to go Buemi and Webber went out on the soft slick tyres to see if they could attack the fastest time, but Buemi quickly found out it wasn’t dry enough for slicks and returned to the pits after he had spun, Webber did a better job but although he was more careful and did not spin, he also found out there was no way he could improve Hamilton’s fastest time on slicks and came slipping and sliding back to the Red Bull garage.
For tomorrow rain is again forecasted, and during the third and last free practice session drivers will have to finalize their wet weather setup for qualifying, but if it stays dry the cards could once more be reshuffled for the qualifying session and the race on Sunday. The Korean International Circuit is a place full of surprises, the corners are narrow and the concrete walls are very close at certain parts, and just a little mistake means the difference between failure and victory.