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.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower