Alonso pips Hamilton in practice to raise hopes of a closer contest

Fernando Alonso's mood will have improved after he recorded the fastest time in practice yesterday before the Grand Prix of Europe.

Click HERE to upload graphic: Valencia: Where the race can be won or lost (73kb)

The Spaniard, who on Thursday attacked his Ferrari team over this season's poor results, led home Lewis Hamilton in a session that suggested this weekend's events in Valencia may not be as much to Red Bull's liking as the season thus far.

Both Ferrari and McLaren came hoping limitations on the way teams change engine mapping might bring them closer to Red Bull's pace and, when Alonso and Hamilton eclipsed the world champion Sebastian Vettel in the afternoon, that hope appeared justified.

Alonso remained his usual cautious self, aware that things such as fuel loads can significantly influence speed on a Friday when teams are still sorting their cars and can go for long runs as well as low-fuel, all-out spurts. Knowing who is doing what, and when, is still difficult to figure out on these occasions, even for the teams themselves.

"The track characteristics are well suited to our car, but it is too early to say where we are compared to the others," Alonso said after a late run to 1min 37.968sec. "In practice one and two you try so many things and the track changes very quickly – even more on a street circuit like this one – so it is really impossible to make predictions."

Meanwhile, at McLaren, Hamilton and Jenson Button seemed well off the pace in the morning as they struggled a little on medium compound tyres while trying revised parts which will be needed when the ban on blown diffusers comes into effect for Silverstone in two weeks. In the afternoon Hamilton deposed Vettel as the fastest man on track until Alonso's final run, and remained second with 1:38.195 to the German's 1:38.265.

"It was very slippery out there today," Hamilton said. "In the afternoon the grip was a little lower because the new medium-compound prime tyre proved a bit tricky to switch on. But once we fitted the softer option tyre, it was much easier to drive and we seemed to have some pretty decent pace.

"There are still plenty of improvements we can make. We need to work on the balance; it's not a million miles away, but it could be better.

Button was sixth, behind on-form Michael Schumacher's Mercedes and Felipe Massa's Ferrari, and just ahead of Mark Webber's Red Bull.

"This morning we were mainly collecting data, so I spent quite a lot of time in the garage," Button admitted. "In the afternoon, I did a bit more running and tried both tyre compounds. The prime proved quite difficult to switch on, and consequently we couldn't find good balance with it. I think we've a good balance on the option and, because the track will grip-up quite a lot with every session we run, we're now heading in the right direction balance-wise with the prime too.

Neither Vettel nor Webber appeared too concerned about the rule change. "Maybe I will be surprised, maybe not," the former said. "But from what I judge now, there is nothing to be afraid of. We got to Australia and we were quite a bit quicker than others, then we get to Malaysia and we had to push hard to be on pole. Nothing changed on the car, it was just a different track."

Webber said the new rules had made little difference. "McLaren were not slow in Canada and neither were Ferrari, so not much has changed. On all of this subject we wait until Silverstone, as it's a normal GP in terms of the new regulations, at least for us anyway."

It was a gruelling day for the Scottish rookie Paul di Resta. Force India's test and reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg drove his car in the morning session and got caught out by the slipperiness of the "green" track, hitting the wall under braking. The resultant crash damage was not fixed until the final third of the afternoon session, which left the 25 year-old with less than 10 minutes in which to acclimatise and set a decent lap time.

Di Resta once again showed his class by doing just that, but said: "The guys did a great job to get everything repaired in time for me to get out for the final few minutes, but I only managed three timed laps. It means there is plenty of work to do in final practice tomorrow morning to make up for the lost track time."

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'