Sebastian Vettel is threatening to grab a second successive pole position ahead of tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix after finishing quickest in practice.
The reigning world champion popped in a flying lap of one minute 23.168secs in his Red Bull in the dying moments of the final 60-minute session in the build-up to qualifying at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya.
After a stuttering start to the season, Vettel is clearly back in form after winning the last race in Bahrain from pole.
However, to underline the nature of how open qualifying could be, Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi finished within two tenths of a second of Vettel in second and third.
The trio were all quicker than the best lap posted yesterday by McLaren’s Jenson Button who had to settle for eighth, albeit as one of his hot laps on the softer, faster Pirelli tyres used in the closing stages was baulked.
Button finished 0.741secs down on Vettel, with Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Sauber’s Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari and the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne all ahead of him.
It was worse for McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, though, as he posted the fastest time in the first two sectors at one stage and was poised to top the timesheet with three minutes remaining.
But in the final chicane Hamilton found himself blocked by Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus, resulting in the 27-year-old finishing 16th, 1.610secs off the pace.
Raikkonen ended up ninth, 0.027secs behind Button, with Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes completing the top 10 and the only other driver within a second of Vettel.
Felipe Massa completed a remarkable sequence as he wound up 11th after finishing 12th and 11th in FP1 and FP2 respectively, with his times 1.003secs, 1.019secs and 1.011secs off the leader.
Despite sporting an upgrade package they hoped would propel them closer to the top 10, the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta appear to be struggling, the latter nearly 1.5secs down in 15th.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean propped up the standings, albeit without setting a time due to a fuel pressure problem that restricted him to nothing more than two installation laps.