Hamilton burst offers hope to Red Bull's rivals

There was a moment during the second free practice session here yesterday afternoon when Red Bull's rivals involuntarily issued collective gasps of dismay.

Vitaly Petrov had not long set the fastest lap time of 1min 24.786sec when Sebastian Vettel sliced it down to 1:22.826, 1.96sec faster. It got worse for them when Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber, the runaway winner from pole position here last year, reduced that to 1:22.470. But with half an hour to go Lewis Hamilton confirmed the improvement that McLaren have made to their car with up to 12 upgrades, by pushing between them on 1:22.509, just 0.039sec shy of Webber.

As far as fans are concerned, this is what F1 needs desperately, potential serious competition for the world championship-winning team from Milton Keynes. But the Spanish spectators would have been a lot happier had Fernando Alonso done better than fifth place, on 1:23.568, in his modified Ferrari, while doubtless the Germans would have wanted Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in their improving Mercedes to have done better than 1:23.586 and 1:23.981 respectively.

These days teams can't afford to sandbag on a Friday, and though Red Bull have a habit of pulling something out of the bag in the final qualifying session on a Saturday, the times at the top of the sheets are encouraging for McLaren's chances tomorrow. And thus far in 2011 Ferrari have habitually raced better than they qualify.

"It's difficult to get an accurate read on pace," Hamilton admitted. "We stuck to our programme today and didn't appear to be too far off, but you never know what fuel loads or engine levels the other teams are running. Still, we got some good data and made some positive improvements so, in all likelihood, we look as competitive today as we have in the past.

"We put a new front wing on and it naturally appeared to be a little bit better. But when I spoke with Mark Webber just now, he wasn't like, 'Wow, you were quick!' I don't think that those guys are sweating just yet."

Team-mate Jenson Button, fourth on 1:23.188, added: "This morning was spent running through the new systems on the car; this afternoon was the time to push a bit harder and get a proper feel for things. I'm not particularly happy with the balance but I'm going to work to improve that overnight. There's more pace in the car, we've just got to unleash it and find a balance that I like."

The mood was also grounded at Ferrari, with the gap of more than a second between Webber and Alonso. "My first impression is favourable: I think we have made a step forward," the Spaniard said. "It's always difficult to judge the gaps in free practice because there are always differences between one car and the next. But the chances of fighting for a podium are even more likely here than they were in Turkey."

Hamilton's hopes lie in qualifying well and making the most at the start. "The problem is, when Vettel starts on pole position it's easy because he has clear air. It's pretty much done and dusted by Turn One because he's able to look after his tyres and his engine. When you get stuck behind a car that's slower than you, the question is, do you back off and save the tyres? I tend to try and get past them as quick as possible, use the tyres in the early stages to get by. But at the last race it took me forever to get past Jenson, and once I finally got past, my tyres were destroyed. If I can get the car on the front row, those problems will pretty much disappear."

The 2008 world champion has already been connected to a Red Bull drive next season, but yesterday Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali refused to rule out a future role for him with the Italian team, notwithstanding his enmity with Fernando Alonso (who yesterday was revealed to have signed a new contact until 2016), when they were team-mates at McLaren in 2007.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London