Jenson on the button in battle to catch Raikkonen

Befitting a track new to the calendar, Valencia threw up some unusual scenarios on the first day of practice.

The German rookie Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the morning for the underdog Toro Rosso team. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, in Renault and Honda respectively, fought Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari in the afternoon. It was a balance between letting the track come to you as the grip level rose, and having your engineers make major changes to the set-up of the car. Some did this better than others, some simply went through their usual Friday routines of gathering data relevant to the race. The one thing you could be certain of was that it would all be different on the morrow.

Button made big strides with the set-up of his car and set the third-fastest time of the day, 1 min 39.546sec, on Bridgestone's super-soft rubber. His time was only 0.069sec slower than Kimi Raikkonen's best.

"It was good finally to get out on the new circuit after previously experiencing the lap on the simulator and having a closer look during our track walk yesterday," Button said. "We were struggling with very low grip this morning and I'm sure that was the same for everyone.

"The track is very dusty and if you go off line, your tyres are quickly covered in dirt, which makes it difficult to be consistent. We made a lot of changes to the car this afternoon which provided a great deal of useful information. It was nice to do a quick lap at the end. Hopefully, we can further improve the car overnight."

It is a long time since he has been in a position to sound so optimistic. By contrast, his fellow countryman Lewis Hamilton had a relatively quiet day, third fastest in the morning and fifth, on 1:39.712, in the afternoon.

"We were able to go quicker on each run without changing too much and we took a very good baseline into the afternoon session," he said. "Our adjustments were again spot-on but sheer volume of traffic meant it was difficult to confirm our final set-up changes."

Ferrari also look strong again here, with Massa setting the second-fastest time of 1:40.654 to Vettel in the morning, and Raikkonen the day's fastest lap of 1:39.477 in the afternoon.