Quick Button in high spirits while Vettel in high-speed crash

Fortune does not always favour the brave, as Sebastian Vettel learnt to his cost after crashing in the first practice session at Istanbul Park yesterday morning.

Minutes before, Jenson Button had educated attentive girlfriend Jessica Michibata on the niceties of Pirelli's wet weather tyres' wear characteristics – yes, that's how much she loves him! – and said that it was his intention to do the minimum number of laps on the sodden track. Not so Vettel, who was pushing hard when he got the right rear wheel of his Red Bull up the kerb on the 170 mph exit to the notorious triple-apex lefthander Turn Eight, and spun hard into the inside wall. His car was sufficiently badly damaged that he didn't get to run in the afternoon – when Button was fastest.

"There wasn't much I could do to stop the car from hitting the wall this morning," the world champion said sheepishly. "But the most important thing is that I'm fine. Unfortunately we couldn't get the car ready in time for this afternoon's session, as there was too much damage, so I'm sorry to the guys. It makes things a bit more difficult, but I don't think it will be a problem, we know the track well from other years and, in the end, it was only one afternoon that we have lost. I'm still confident – it looks pretty close."

McLaren's softly, softly approach reaped dividends as Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, behind Button and Nico Rosberg's Mercedes, and ahead of Michael's Schumacher's Mercedes and Mark Webber in the other Red Bull. It was, for both McLaren and Mercedes, a promising start against their feared rival whose car has been the fastest in the previous three races.

"I'm pretty happy with how today went," Button said with the cheerful smile of a man who knows he got it right. "The car's been working reasonably well – there are always things you want to improve, but we've made some good progress and have a lot of useful data to go through. Trying to get the car to ride the bumps well into Turn 12 has been difficult, but we improved it through the session. Turn 12 is really bumpy – it's like they put a motocross jump in there!"

Slow-motion cameras captured the bucking bronco ride that both McLaren drivers had to endure, which was much rougher than Webber and the Renault drivers Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld experienced.

"Turn Eight's quite tough, too," Button continued, "because, depending on your balance, it can damage the front or rear tyres. It's about getting the balance right, which we concentrated on today."

Hamilton said he was happy, too. "I initially struggled a little bit with set-up, which we can look at and fix overnight, but I was really pleased with my long-run pace – I think it was probably one of the best practice long-runs I've ever had.

"Generally, our car has a pretty good baseline. We're still in the fight: the most important factor this weekend is to continue with our consistency – getting on the podium is my target, and if we can win that'll be even better!"

Rosberg and Schumacher were happy too. After losing out to Button by only 0.065s, the younger German said: "I didn't have too many problems with the tyres on the long run and I was quite surprised by the grip levels, which were higher than I expected."

Schumacher spun twice in the morning trying to keep up with his team-mate, and again in the afternoon, but felt he'd had a positive day. "It was especially good that we were able to test both wet and dry tyres. I hadn't really driven the wets so I'm pleased that I finally had some opportunity to use them."

The multiple champion also said he thought the new rules for this year – the DRS rear wing and Pirelli's short-durability tyres – had been hugely beneficial. "I think they are a day and night of a difference, and it is a mega success what we have been seeing – not just in Shanghai but also in the previous races. And that is particularly from a drivers' point of view."

But he could not resist taking a swipe at rival Red Bull, accusing the reigning champion team of failing to observe the spirit of other rules governing workforce head counts.

"We cannot fight for the wins yet, and people don't understand that Mercedes are a small team," he said. "There is an agreement between the teams to limit the number of people and at Mercedes, Ross Brawn observes that. At Red Bull – no. They have too many employees. So now our two teams compete to different rules. Either Mercedes should race to their rules, or else the agreement within the teams should be respected by everyone."