2013 Korean GP Practice Two: Double top for Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes rival Red Bull
Briton pips Vettel again as Lotus and Ferrari left trailing
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 04/10/13 10:21am
Ahead of a race in which Sebastian Vettel is chasing a fourth consecutive victory, the World Champion was denied top spot in a P2 session for the first time since June's British GP - some six events ago - by the flying Hamilton, whose marginally superior pace from the morning session transferred into the supersoft tyre runs in the afternoon.
Hamilton's benchmark lap of 1:38.673 on the option rubber proved to be 0.108s quicker than Vettel's best, with the pair's respective team-mates, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber, also within 0.2s of the day-one pacesetter.
"On the long runs, Mercedes really look to have solved their tyre degradation issue," observed Sky Sports F1's practice co-commentator Karun Chandhok after Mercedes also fared well on the later long runs.
While there was relatively little separating Mercedes and Red Bull, in a mirror image of the picture at Singapore, both Lotus and Ferrari trailed several more tenths of a second adrift on outright pace around the three-part lap.
Furthermore, the two teams' respective star drivers, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, lapped slower than their team-mates although the former could point to some traffic on his fastest supersoft tyre lap for trailing Felipe Massa by three tenths down in seventh place.
Despite his big morning crash at the final corner, Raikkonen missed little in the way of track action in the afternoon after Lotus's mechanics completed major repairs to his E21 although still complained early in the session of a steering problem. Any lingering issues may explain why the Finn ended up two places, and a half a second back, on his stable-mate Romain Grosjean in eighth place.
Jenson Button, who lost some time during the race simulations in the garage while his McLaren team worked to fix a broken brake bias adjuster in his MP4-28 cockpit, and Force India's Adrian Sutil rounded out the top ten.
But it's the prospect of a close-fought battle between the season's fastest two teams, at least for pole on Saturday, that will whet the appetite overnight after three races of total Vettel domination.
Both Friday sessions witnessed the unusual trend of the famously efficient Red Bull proving quicker through the first sector, which is essentially made up of two straights - Vettel's advantage over Hamilton was 0.3s on their quickest P2 laps - yet the Mercedes W04 faster through the twister final two sectors.
The end result, on Friday at least, has left Hamilton feeling unusually optimistic at the end of the opening day.
"It's been a good day. Really happy with the way it has gone," he told Sky Sports F1. We've still got some improvements to make, but we look more competitive than we did for the last race. I can't remember when I had a very strong Friday.
"I've still some tweaks to make, but the car feels great."
Third practice and qualifying for the Korean GP is live on Sky Sports F1 on Saturday morning from 2.45am with Sunday's race build-up starting at 5.30am.