Friday, 22 August 2008

European Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

After a three week long mid-season break Formula One is back, and it has made the journey to the first of two brand new street circuits - Valencia, Spain. As ever with F1 there is no such thing as a "holiday", perhaps with the exception of the drivers. The teams will have been working feverishly on squeezing a few extra hundredths of a second out of their cars since Hungary, and will be anxious to see the fruits of their labour out on the baking hot tarmac in Valencia.

The track itself has definite echoes of the Monte Carlo street circuit, with the course looping its way around the picturesque harbour against the back drop of the gleaming Mediterranean Sea. However, in terms of the track layout the character of the track should be very different. There are plenty of very high speed corners here, particularly the likes of turn one, and the track is also quite wide and spacious throughout, in stark contrast to more traditional style street circuits like Monaco. First impressions of the track are very favourable, with a great variety of corners, hopefully some good opportunities for passing, and a very eye-catching bridge section across the harbour.

Friday's first practice session began with the track naturally very green, and also extremely dusty due to the baking heat and lack of rain in Spain at this time of year. Times tumbled rapidly throughout the session as the track began to clear and rubber up, and all drivers were out putting plenty of mileage down in order to get used to the unfamiliar circuit. No doubt they will have been in the simulators at the factory in the past few weeks, but no amount of simulation can prepare you for the real deal.

At the end of the first session it was Toro Rosso's German sensation Sebastien Vettel who took the weekend's first headlines with an excellent lap in the dying moments to oust Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Lewis Hamilton managed to take P3 despite a spin in turn 2 late on in the session. He wasn't the only one taking advantage of the generous run-off areas here, with home favourite Fernando Alonso also running off the circuit at one point and Jarno Trulli having a minor pirouette.

To underline Toro Rosso's vast improvement Sebastien Bourdais put his STR3 up into fourth place. This was in stark contrast to the fortunes of Toro Rosso's big brothers over at Red Bull who managed to finish the session propping up the time sheets in last and second last place. David Coulthard had a brush with a crash barrier on his final run, just to make matters worse.

The second session saw most teams and drivers focussing on longer runs for the majority of the session, before the battle for the top spot heated up in the last ten minutes or so. At the chequered flag it was world champion Kimi Raikkonen leading the way with the fastest lap of the weekend so far. Fernando Alonso entertained the Spanish crowds with second place, and a spin at turn 2 to boot, and Jenson Button was a surprise third place finisher.

So far both Ferrari and McLaren are unsurprisingly looking strong, with Ferrari perhaps having a slight edge so far. It really is quite difficult to judge though with all drivers spending time just getting comfortable on the new circuit. For instance, Toro Rosso were nowhere near as competitive in the second session, and Rubens Barrichello finished dead last despite teammate Button coming third. We probably won't get a really good idea of who's hot and who's not here until we get down to the nitty-gritty of qualifying tomorrow.

Practice One Times

01 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:40.496 29 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:40.654 27 laps
03 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:40.822 21 laps
04 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:41.099 31 laps
05 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:41.163 23 laps
06 R. Kubica BMW 1:41.281 24 laps
07 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:41.317 27 laps
08 K. Nakajima Williams 1:41.329 26 laps
09 F. Alonso Renault 1:41.385 31 laps
10 N. Rosberg Williams 1:41.706 22 laps
11 R. Barrichello Honda 1:41.830 27 laps
12 J. Trulli Toyota 1:41.930 27 laps
13 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:41.951 23 laps
14 T. Glock Toyota 1:42.036 27 laps
15 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:42.107 32 laps
16 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:42.453 23 laps
17 J. Button Honda 1:42.460 29 laps
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:43.075 25 laps
19 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:43.312 23 laps
20 M. Webber Red Bull 1:43.524 24 laps

Practice Two Times

01 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:39.477 30 laps
02 F. Alonso Renault 1:39.497 39 laps
03 J. Button Honda 1:39.546 35 laps
04 F. Massa Ferrari 1:39.678 31 laps
05 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:39.712 31 laps
06 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:39.954 30 laps
07 T. Glock Toyota 1:39.967 32 laps
08 R. Kubica BMW 1:40.149 35 laps
09 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:40.439 32 laps
10 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:40.500 23 laps
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:40.585 24 laps
12 N. Rosberg Williams 1:40.607 34 laps
13 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:40.696 23 laps
14 K. Nakajima Williams 1:40.742 34 laps
15 J. Trulli Toyota 1:40.877 32 laps
16 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:40.982 36 laps
17 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:40.999 32 laps
18 N. Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1:41.084 31 laps
19 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:41.246 38 laps
20 R. Barrichello Honda 1:41.377 31 laps

Onboard vid of the new track - Youtube - Kubica Onboard Valencia Friday Practice

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