World champion revs up to Valencia hat-trick

 

FORMULA ONE EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX:WORLD CHAMPION Sebastian Vettel looked a good bet to end Formula Ones record run of different winners and complete a Valencia hat-trick with the fastest time in European Grand Prix free practice on Friday.

The 24-year-old Red Bull driver, winner at the Spanish street circuit for the past two years, lapped with a best time of one minute 39.334 seconds in the second session under cloudy skies.

Fellow German Nico Hulkenberg lapped second fastest for Force India, 0.131 seconds slower, in a session that had seven different teams in the top eight places and separated by little more than half a second. There was less than a second between Vettel and the Ferrari of 15th placed Brazilian Felipe Massa.

In a further indication of how close Sunday’s race could be, with overtaking always difficult and pole a huge advantage on Valencia’s twisty track, the top nine drivers in the morning were separated by less than three-tenths.

Formula One has seen seven different winners in the first seven races, a streak that has never happened before. But double champion Vettel has every chance of becoming the season’s first repeat winner.

Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber was third and ninth respectively. McLaren’s Jenson Button, whose form has plunged since the 2009 champion won the season opener in Australia, was smiling after ending the morning in fourth place, although he was 12th in the afternoon.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, competing in front of his home Spanish crowd for the second and last time this season, ended up fifth and seventh with teams trying out aerodynamic developments over the course of the day.

“Overall, it’s been a positive day, during which we tried various updates on the car: some worked well, others need some modifying and then they might be used at Silverstone,” said Alonso.

Mercedes’s seven-times champion Michael Schumacher lapped seventh and fourth fastest in the two sessions while championship leader and Canadian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton was eighth and 14th for McLaren.

The only incident in the afternoon session was provided by Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa who crashed his HRT into the tyre barriers after 45 minutes.

There had been little action for the first half hour of the morning, with drivers doing installation laps only and slipping into the pits without roaring down the main straight.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado Maldonado posted his best time for Williams just over halfway through the 90-minute session.

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