Formula One championship leader Mark Webber of Red Bull asserted his claims to the title by setting the fastest time in Friday’s practice for the Korean Grand Prix.
Webber’s lap of 1 minute, 37.942 seconds on Friday at the brand new Korean International Circuit was almost two-tenths of a second quicker than title rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, with another championship contender Lewis Hamilton of McLaren third fastest.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel - equal second with Alonso in the standings, 14 points behind Webber - was seventh on the timesheets after suffering a puncture during session two.
Jenson Button was fifth despite missing much of the session after his McLaren overheated and had to be sprayed down with fire extinguishers in pitlane.
The morning session was a learning experience from drivers, who drove with caution around the freshly laid track until enough rubber was laid on the surface and they were able to push harder.
The initial few laps in the morning saw times around the 1 minute, 50 second mark, and by the end of the afternoon session, about 12 seconds had been shaved off.
“It started to get more sensible as the day went on, but it’s the same for everyone and we just have to keep chipping away,” Webber said.
“It was a positive day and the car ran well. There was a lot of information to gather and we’ve done that pretty successfully.”
Even allowing for the evolution of the track, the first day exposed some problems with the new circuit, particularly in the final sector - a pronounced dip on the apex of the penultimate corner leads into a walled section where drivers can not see if the car ahead is slowing to enter the pitlane.
“The pit entry is quite on the edge here because its blind, and someone going into the pits will be going slower than someone who’s staying out,” Vettel said. “If you’re trying to pass and they decide to pit, it could be quite difficult.”
Despite those issues, drivers were broadly positive about the layout of the track, foreseeing good passing opportunities at the end of the three straights in sector one, and complemented by more technical and varied sections for the remainder of the lap.
“I am very pleasantly surprised with the circuit,” said Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, who was 12th fastest. “It is very demanding, challenging and tricky, which provides a challenge that I like a lot.”