Talking of his chances in the Grand Prix of India, Sebastian Vettel, the winner here last year, said on Thursday that he wouldn’t want to take more than one step at a time. “We first want to do our best in Friday’s free practice, then have a good start and then get the maximum points possible,” he said.
The Red Bull driver’s first step was in the right direction on Friday as he dominated both the sessions of free practice. While Vettel was fluid and sinuous in the morning, clocking 1:27.619s over the 5.14-kilometre long Buddh International Circuit, he was just as brilliant in the afternoon, posting 1:26.221s to keep his teammate Mark Webber (1:26.339s) at bay.
The performances of Vettel and Webber in the second session clearly indicated that the upgrades carried out by Red Bull to its cars have not been in vain. What was remarkable about the RB8s, especially the one steered by Vettel, was its frenetic straight-line speed. The car was pretty steady too, on both the high-speed and slow-speed curves, and this should seem ominous to Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), who is locked in a battle with Vettel for the 2012 drivers’ title.
Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Webber held the first position at different stages of the second free practice, but after the 20th lap, Vettel was simply indomitable.
Alonso, who was third in both the sessions, completed a total of 58 laps. He sounded quite satisfied with his run.
“This is an interesting circuit — after the longest straight, there’s a combination of high-speed corners which are very nice to drive. Today the track was still very dirty, which is usually the case at new tracks that aren’t used very often. Tomorrow, when it delivers more grip, it will be even more fun. The track conditions which change rapidly with every lap make it even more complicated. We must study the data carefully to make the right choices for the rest of the weekend,” he said.
Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa, who twice strayed off his racing line in the afternoon, wasn’t as pleased with his performance.
“It was a rather difficult day, especially in the afternoon when we switched from the hard (tyres) to the soft. The balance of the car was no longer the best and it became very difficult to drive to such an extent that I ended up spinning,” he said.
Barring the first session, where Jenson Button posted the second fastest time (1:27.929s), McLaren had a none-too-remarkable day. Button was seventh in the afternoon while Hamilton was fourth in both the sessions.
Drivers falling off the racing line and spinning off the fast corners was the order of the afternoon session. Like Massa, Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), too, careened off the circuit twice in addition to missing the apex on Turn 7 — a bend that also stumped Charles Pic and Timo Glock (both of Marussia Racing).
The key to having a successful weekend, according to most drivers, is in doing one’s homework carefully. As the Ferrari head, Stefano Domenicali, said, “The track is changing every lap. We have to look at elements that will make all the difference this weekend and work towards achieving our objective.”
Free practice classification (top five):
First practice: 1. S. Vettel (Red Bull) 1:27.619; 2. J. Button (McLaren) 1:27.929; 3. F. Alonso (Ferrari) 1:28.044; 4. L. Hamilton (McLaren) 1:28.046; 5. M. Webber (Red Bull) 1:28.175.
Second practice: 1. Vettel 1:26.221; 2. Webber 1:26.339; 3. Alonso 1:26.820; 4. N. Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:27.022; 5. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 1:27.030.