Improvements made to Ferrari’s car seem to have paid off
VALENCIA, Spain: Improvements to Ferrari’s car paid off as Fernando Alonso completed the fastest lap on the first day of practice yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s European Grand Prix.
The Spanish driver posted a lap of 1 minute, 39.283 seconds in the second session at the 5.5km Valencia street circuit, as Ferrari’s vaunted aerodynamic improvements took effect.
“What I can say is that the car is competitive,” Alonso said. “It’s important to fight so I hope that we can be strong tomorrow, fighting. I’m happy with the car today.”
The Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were second and third fastest, respectively. Vettel was 0.056 seconds behind in the second session and Webber was 0.144 seconds back.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was fifth-fastest, with teammate Jenson Button ninth.
Earlier, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes set the pace in the first session with a lap of 1:41.175.
Alonso had played down Ferrari’s new aerodynamic package, which includes the team’s version of the blown diffuser exhaust system that accelerates air flow and aids grip. Renault and Mercedes have also installed the diffuser, which has already helped lift Red Bull into second place in this season’s constructors’ championship.
Alonso’s caution was validated when he was only ninthfastest in the first session though he was able to pick up the pace in second practice.
“I think we can be competitive here tomorrow, but it’s never going to be easy,” Alonso said. “Red Bull is very strong, McLaren is very strong. I think we have all brought something here so it’s just a matter of doing a good job tomorrow.”
The Spaniard has not won a race since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in March.
Hamilton, who won in Turkey and Canada, leads the world championship with 109 points. World champion Button is second on 106. Webber is third on 103 points, ahead of Alonso on 94 and Vettel on 90.
Button acknowledged that his car has fewer upgrades in place for this weekend than some of McLaren’s competitors. “There’s a lot going on, so we just have to make sure we get our heads down and focus on making sure we get the best out of what we have,” he said.
“We have a car we know very well, so it’s just about finetuning and getting the best out of it for the weekend.”
In hot and clear conditions the track temperature rose to around 45°C during the second session.
Mercedes’ new exhaust system has had mixed results so far.
Rosberg managed the fastest lap in the first session though he dropped to fourth in the afternoon.
He was quicker than his Mercedes teammate Michael Schumacher throughout the day. The seven-time champion’s times were eighth fastest in first practice and 11th in the second.
“The team has done a good job on our upgrades and I’m sure that they have improved our competitiveness,” Rosberg said. “We have a few bits and pieces to resolve overnight but we are on the right track which is nice to see. We know that our race pace is better than our qualifying performance at the moment so if we can get our qualifying right, we should make good progress this weekend.”
Hamilton conceded that things looked much tighter at the top, but was positive about his team’s chances.
“It wasn’t too bad today,” said the 2008 champion. “The others are looking very, very competitive, but mostly on the single lap rather than the race pace. I think our race pace is closer but through the highspeed corners it is difficult for us to touch them.” – AP and Sapa-AFP
FAST PARTS: Upgrades for this weekend brought out by Ferrari had the desired effect, Fernando Alonso of Spain finding enough speed to top the time table at the second free practice at the street circuit in Valencia, Spain, yesterday.
HOLDING PATTERN: McLaren pilot Lewis Hamilton.
BACK ON PACE: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso.
TURNING HEADS: Mercedes whizz-kid Nico Rosberg.
NEXT BEST: Red Sebastian Vettel.