Vettel sets the pace in Valencia
World champion Sebastian Vettel looked a good bet to end Formula One's record run of different winners and complete a Valencia hat-trick with the fastest time in European Grand Prix free practice on Friday.
The 24-year-old Red Bull driver, winner at the Spanish street circuit for the past two years, lapped with a best time of one minute 39.334 seconds in the second session under cloudy skies.
Fellow-German Nico Hulkenberg lapped second fastest for Force India, 0.131 seconds slower, in a session that had seven different teams in the top eight places and separated by little more than half a second.
There was less than a second between Vettel and the Ferrari of 15th placed Brazilian Felipe Massa.
In a further indication of how close Sunday's race could be, with overtaking always difficult and pole a huge advantage on Valencia's twisty track, the top nine drivers in the morning were separated by less than three tenths.
Formula One has seen seven different winners in the first seven races, a streak that has never happened before, but double champion Vettel has every chance of becoming the season's first repeat winner.
"We have tried some new parts on the car today, but the lap times have not really allowed us to have a fair conclusion of them yet," said the German.
"It was important to have a clean practice today and I'm happy with what we did. The conditions will change again for Sunday I think. It was a bit cooler today, which will make a difference."
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, surprise winner in Spain last month, put Williams back on top of the timesheets on an overcast and breezy morning with a time of 1.40.890. Vettel had been second quickest.
Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber, who spent part of the first session watching his mechanics fix an hydraulic problem with the car's rear wing DRS system, was third and ninth respectively.
McLaren's Jenson Button, whose form has plunged since the 2009 champion won the season-opener in Australia, was smiling after ending the morning in fourth place, although he was 12th in the afternoon.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, competing in front of his home Spanish crowd for the second and last time this season, ended up fifth and seventh with teams trying out aerodynamic developments over the course of the day.
"Overall, it's been a positive day, during which we tried various updates on the car: some worked well, others need some modifying and then they might be used at Silverstone," commented Alonso.
Mercedes's seven times champion Michael Schumacher lapped seventh and fourth fastest in the two sessions while championship leader and Canadian GP winner Lewis Hamilton was eighth and 14th for McLaren.
The only incident in the afternoon session was provided by Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa crashing his HRT into the tyre barriers after 45 minutes.
There had been little track action for the first half hour of the morning run, with drivers doing installation laps only and ducking back into the pits without roaring down the main straight.
Maldonado, whose recent results have suffered after he was hit with three grid penalties in two races, posted his best just over half way through the 90-minute session.
SECOND FREE PRACTICE SESSION TIMES
1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) RedBull - Renault 1:39.334
2. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India-Mercedes 1:39.465
3. Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber - Ferrari 1:39.595
4. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Mercedes 1:39.601
5. Bruno Senna (Brazil) Williams - Renault 1:39.644
6. Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India-Mercedes 1:39.700
7. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1:39.733
8. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - Renault 1:39.868
9. Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 1:39.901
10. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1:39.926
11. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - Renault 1:39.945
12. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1:39.990
13. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams - Renault 1:40.075
14. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1:40.147
15. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 1:40.244
16. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Sauber - Ferrari 1:40.511
17. Vitaly Petrov (Russia) Caterham - Renault 1:40.963
18. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1:41.121
19. Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) Caterham - Renault 1:41.197
20. Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1:41.263
21. Timo Glock (Germany) Marussia - Cosworth 1:42.424
22. Charles Pic (France) Marussia - Cosworth 1:42.958
23. Narain Karthikeyan (India) HRT - Cosworth 1:44.201
24. Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) HRT - Cosworth 1:44.260