Greater Noida: Sebastian Vettel, on Friday, started from where he left at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) last year.
The indomitable German, who won the inaugural Indian Grand Prix in 2011 and is gearing up to win his fourth straight race this season, once again led the pack by setting the fastest time in the practice sessions.
The Red Bull driver, who leads Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by six points with four races remaining, was quickest in both of the day’s sessions. The 25-year-old set a best time of one minute 27.619 seconds in the morning and then led the afternoon timesheets with a lap of 1:26.221.
The latter time was comfortably inside Vettel’s race lap record of 1:27.249. His main rival, Alonso, was third fastest, six-tenths off the pace.
Moments after the second practice session was over, an exhausted but smiling Vettel warned that repeating the same result in Sunday’s race won’t be an easy task.
“The track improvement was quite big today, it was dusty to start and improved lap by lap, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the order is different on any other day here. But then, we’ve had worse Fridays, so I am happy,” Vettel said.
Alonso, on the other hand, said: “The track conditions, which change rapidly lap after lap, make it even more complicated to understand the situation relating to the hierarchy down the pit lane.”
McLaren’s Jenson Button was second fastest, 0.310 slower, before lunch with Vettel’s Australian teammate Mark Webber second in the afternoon in a Red Bull one-two. Alonso was third in both sessions.
The top three in first practice were in the same order as last year’s podium finishers at the inaugural meet at the BIC, which Vettel dominated after having already clinched his second championship.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen, a first timer at the track, gave yet another fine performance and was fifth fastest ahead of the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Button. Once the race was over, Hamilton admitted he needed to work hard to achieve a better result.
“We’re probably quick enough to qualify third or fourth fastest at the moment, but, to go for pole, we’re going to really need to push hard in our development work tonight,” Hamilton said.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg set the eighth fastest time, followed by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Williams’ Bruno Senna.
Asked about his feelings on the BIC, Hulkenberg said: “It was my first experience of the Buddh circuit 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 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 the qualifiers tomorrow (Saturday).”
Button had a gearshift problem in the afternoon, two laps into a long run on heavy fuel, and struggled to get the tyres to work as he wanted.
“I’m not sure our race pace is that good actually,” the 2009 champion told reporters. “Over one lap I think there’s quite a bit of work to do, I think we’re just struggling for general grip.”
The other Force India driver Paul di Resta was 11th fastest, a position higher than the morning session. “It was not an easy session for me. The balance is still not perfect and we need to work hard tonight to try and improve that before final practice,” said di Resta.
“The main issue of the day was the puncture I picked up half-way through FP2 because I missed out on my high-fuel run on the soft tyres. Also, it was hard to get a clean lap during my low fuel run because the track was so busy. We’ve got data with the other car but it would have been helpful to have run more laps and got a proper feel for the soft,” he added.