Valencia FP2 Recap: Vettel on top for afternoon practice, Hulkenberg & Kobayshi 2-3

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Sebastian Vettel (1:39.334) set the fastest time in the afternoon practice session for the 2012 European Grand Prix, followed by Nico Hulkenberg, Michael Schumacher, and Bruno Senna as the top five. Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT was the only casualty of the session despite many lockups, sliding into the tyre barrier at Turn 14 at the halfway point of the session. Though the Spaniard told the team the incident was his fault, it also appeared that the car did not respond to steering input to make the turn, and observers felt they heard the sound of the throttle sticking open. As the afternoon progressed in Valencia, the track heated up and the sun began peeking through the cloud cover, better approximating the forecast conditions for qualifying and the race. Despite a good run in the morning, Jenson Button’s gremlins seemed to continue to follow the former world champion, as he managed only twelfth fastest. Teammate Lewis Hamilton did not fare much better, languishing in fourteenth. Kimi Raikkonen finished the session eleventh. However, the times were incredibly close, with the top fifteen covered by less than a second.

Maldonado (1:40.890) led the first practice session over Vettel, Webber, Button, and Alonso, but it was Button’s performance turnaround that made some headlines. The Briton began the cool and overcast morning practice with a KERS system that did not want to work and complaining of grip and handling issues. As the session progressed, so did his times, as he ended the close session barely more than a tenth off Maldonado’s pace. The top nine were covered by just under three tenths, as no driver switched to the softer tyre in the dusty conditions of the Valencia morning. With temperatures expected to climb in the afternoon and for qualifying and the race on Sunday, the first practice may have been of less value than usual. Despite the lack of grip, no driver had a serious incident, though many used the escape roads and runoff areas of the street circuit as they locked up and tested the limits of their cars and the circuit.

Session Start:
No one rushed out as the light went green to begin the second ninety minute practice session, though Grosjean soon led Kobayashi out onto the still dusty streets of Valencia. The sky also remained overcast as more and more drivers strode out to continue the work of the race weekend, with a bit of rain possibly forecast during the session. More than half the drivers had joined the on-track fray before five minutes had elapsed, with Grosjean (1:45.049) setting the first time just over four minutes in. Early on multiple drivers traded the fast lap. Meanwhile, Webber radioed a complaint to Red Bull, indicating “a problem with the downshift.” Sixteen drivers had set a time just ten minutes into the session, as Maldonado (1:40.557) led Button, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Perrez, Massa, Ricciardo, Senna, and Kovalainen as the top ten. Only Alonso, Schumacher, Rosberg, Di Resta, de la Rosa, and Glock had yet to set times. Alonso’s first time put him second fastest, just two thousandths off Maldonado’s time. The fast times continued to come in as the early minutes passed by and the track rubbered in.

Button had taken the top spot back from Maldonado at the 1:15:00 mark, only to have teammate Hamilton spoil the fun by going faster yet. Alonso sat fourth, Hulkenberg fifth, and Massa, Webber, Vettel, Senna, and Kobayashi completed the top ten. However, the order would not long stay the same as Di Resta went second fastest as Alonso went fastest of all. Massa also looked to be on a good lap moments later, only to run wide at Turn 12, but still moved from eighth to fifth fastest. Webber made his way up to second fastest just before Hamilton put a large flat spot on his right front with a lockup at Turn 2. Schumacher’s first timed lap came just over twenty minutes into the session, with a fastest of all middle sector, and a complete lap time fast enough for sixth fastest. Within a few minutes, the German would move up to fastest. At that point, most of the field sat in the garage. Only Alonso, Di Resta, Schumacher, and Rosberg were circulating. Soon, only the Mercedes teammates were on the circuit. Minutes earlier, Kovalainen posted the first laps on the soft tyre, managing fourteenth fastest in his Caterham.

1 Hour Remaining:
Soon, more drivers had returned to the track. Schumacher (1:40.169) led a third of the way though the session, but had been complaining of an engine or drive issue and pitted. Alonso, Webber, Vettel, Di Resta, Hamilton, Massa, Button, Maldonado, and Hulkenberg completed the fastest ten. This second session remained as close at the morning, with the top fourteen drivers covered by a second. Perez, fifteenth, was 1.035s slower than Schumacher. Soon Rosberg supplanted his teammate at the top by 0.015s as Schumacher sat in the garage, speculating that the teeth on his gears are broken.

Meanwhile, Button switched to the soft tyre, going fastest of all by almost two tenths. That did not last long as Rosberg retook the fast lap while still on the medium tyres. Soon both McLarens, the Ferraris, Kovalainen, and the Toro Rossos were out on the soft tyre. Massa was unable to appropriately improve on his first soft tyre lap, locking up and running wide at Turn 2. However, teammate Alonso (1:39.733) went fastest of all on his own set of the softs. Rosberg looked ready to take the top spot form Alonso on his own set of softs, but de la Rosa gave all the lap times a pause as he went into the wall at Turn 14. The HRT got a bit offline, understeering it’s way directly into the barrier. Though it was unclear, the car appeared to refuse to follow de la Rosa’s steering input. He climbed out and the marshals got to clearing the car form the track. de la Rosa told the team the incident was his fault, though it did not appear that way to observers.

Alonso (1:39.733) led Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Vettel, Massa, Hulkenberg, Webber, and di Resta as the top ten at halfway, just after de la Rosa’s incident. Minutes later, the local yellow was lifted and the action back under way. Schumacher (1:39.601) went fastest of all soon thereafter, presumably indicating that his drive issues had been resolved. Grosjean next improved, moving up to third fastest on soft tyres. Senna put his Williams into second fastest, only to drop to third as Vettel leapfrogged them all to go fastest. More and more drivers mixed up the fast lap order with widespread use of the soft tyres. Hulkenberg slotted into second, with Kobayashi third. As the final third of the session approached, Alonso switched back to the harder tyre compound. On track, Perez had a big spin, facing the wrong way at Turn 17, but spun back the right way in the runoff area and continued around.

30 Minutes Remaining:
Vettel (1:39.334) remained fastest as a half hour remained in the session, with Hulkenberg, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Senna, Di Resta, Alonso, Grosjean, Webber, and Rosberg the top ten. Button sat twelfth, Hamilton fourteenth, and Massa fifteenth. The Brazilian Ferrari driver was just 0.910s slower than Vettel’s time. Most times seemed to have settled in after that rush of soft tyre times, as drivers and teams began more work on heavier fuel loads. Grosjean had a look at passing Schumacher for better track position, but had yet another lock up which forced Schumacher to evade the sliding Lotus. In the end, all were ok and had not contact. Meanwhile, Alonso continued to remain on the medium tyre with heavy fuel, even though most of the rest of the teams and drivers were working on heavy fuel and the soft tyres.

10 Minutes Remaining:
The order remained the same as the final ten minutes began, though Pic and a Caterham added a bit of drama, both going for the same bit of the circuit. There was again no contact, though the Caterham did have to take to the runoff area to avoid it. For the final few minutes, Hamilton also joined Alonso on the medium tyres. Most drivers finished the session on the circuit, though Kobayashi was in the garage, inspecting his tyres.

Final Times for FP2, 2012 European Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:39.334 33
2. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:39.4650.13132
3. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:39.9590.26120
4. Michael SchumacherMercedes1:39.6010.26727
5. Bruno SennaWilliams1:39.6440.31034
6. Paul Di RestaForce India1:39.7000.36632
7. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:39.7330.39934
8. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:39.8680.53433
9. Mark WebberRed Bull1:39.9010.56730
10. Nico RosbergMercedes1:39.9260.59232
11. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:39.9450.61134
12. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:39.9900.65633
13. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:40.0750.74129
14. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:40.1470.81325
15. Felipe MassaFerrari1:40.2440.91035
16. Sergio PerezSauber1:40.5111.17729
17. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:40.9631.62920
18. Daniel RicciardoMarussia1:41.1211.78732
19. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:41.1971.86338
20. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:41.2631.92929
21. Charles PicMarussia1:42.9583.09021
22. Timo GlockMarussia1:43.5373.62430
23. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:44.2014.86733
24. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:44.2604.92612


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