Barcelona: McLaren driver Jenson Button was fastest in practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, edging out Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull in a slippery final session, on Friday, that indicated tires will be a big factor in the race.
The Briton’s lap time of one minute, 23.399 seconds around Catalunya Circuit was less than two-tenths of a second quicker than Vettel, the two-time defending champion who won the race last year.
Teammate Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus were the only other drivers within half a second of Button. A number of others drove off the track after having to deal with a strong wind and tires disintegrating on the hot surface.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Williams’ Bruno Senna performed the most dramatic spins. Webber, who went off wide at Turn 4 to flick some stones on the track, finished behind Romain Grosjean of Lotus and just in front of Michael Schumacher of Mercedes in seventh place.
“You always want to try and get through all three sessions with minimal damage on your tires, and there will be no exception this weekend,” Webber said. “We could see people sit out (the final qualifying session), those that just get into Q3, and they will do that to save tires.”
Schumacher had complained about the Pirelli tires being difficult to handle coming into the race. Most drivers switched to soft tires in the afternoon with the track temperature touching 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit), and many struggled to stay on the circuit when they quickly degraded.
That bodes well for fans with the pole winner having won the previous 10 races before Pirelli took over from Michelin as tire supplier last season. This campaign has the unpredictable start, with four different winners from the opening four races.
“It has been a very challenging day, first of all to see how to get the car right for qualifying and especially how to get it right for the race,” said Rosberg, who won in Shanghai.
Following the Bahrain GP, Vettel has 53 points to lead Hamilton by four and Webber by five. Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso both have 43 points.
Alonso’s leading lap time in the opening practice was his fastest of the two sessions, with the Spanish driver more than a second off Button’s pace in front of his home fans. The former two-time world champion’s afternoon time left him 14th.
“It’s too early for us to say today how we will be in qualifying tomorrow (Saturday) but there’s a good feeling at the moment,” Alonso said. “Tomorrow will be the moment of truth.”
Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg was the best placed Sahara Force India driver with a top-10 position.
The young German finished 10th in both the sessions, managing a time of 1 minute 24.365 sec in the second one, which was better than the 1:25.339 effort in the morning. The team evaluated its latest developments and worked through the usual set-up and tyre programmes.
Paul Di Resta did not participate in the first session and was 15th in the second with a timing of 1:24.688 from 30 laps. Team’s Jules Bianchi was 18th fastest in FP1 when he clocked 1:26.630 for his fastest lap. (Agencies)