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Motorsport | Formula 1

Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull © MNI

Vettel leads Delhi practice

It was a case of 'the usual suspects' in Saturday morning's free practice in India with Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari taking the top places.

2011 world champion Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time (1'24.824) but the top four drivers, Jenson Button (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull) and Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) were all less than half a second behind, followed by Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 0.960 sec off the pace and team mate Felipe Massa at +1.234 sec.

In general, drivers were happy with the layout of the new Buddh International Circuit, created to host India's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, but stray dogs on the track, dust on the surface and thick air pollution were less popular.

The session got under way in hot and sunny conditions but in a heavy smog of dirty pollution that made it impossible to see from one end of the circuit to the other. The air temperature was 28°C with the track at 36°C.

Hamilton had set the fastest lap in Friday morning's free practice session, with Massa quickest in the afternoon. However the stewards gave Hamilton a three-place grid penalty because his fastest lap was set under yellow flag conditions.

A number of drivers went out early in Saturday's morning sunshine, but only completed an installation lap, returning immediately to the pits.

Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) was the first to complete a flying lap with a time of 1'31.768. That was improved by Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) before Schumacher went quickest again with a 1'29.553.

Alguersuari had smacked into the barriers after losing the back end at the exit of Turn 9 on Friday, breaking the left rear suspension and giving his mechanics a lot of work to do to get the car repaired.

The Red Bull team had hinted during the week that newly-crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel would be assisting team mate Mark Webber to get his best possible result in India in order to help him to take second place in the championship, and he responded by going quickest with a 1'28.438 before Vettel showed his class with a 1'26.906 and then went another 0.6 sec faster.

Although the track had been rubbered in on Friday, it was once again covered in a layer of yellow dust on Saturday, and the wide track surface, designed by Hermann Tilke to offer numerous overtaking possibilities, was reduced to a single racing line as drivers avoided losing traction on the dust.

Ferrari was running a bizarre new front wing design on Massa's car which was oscillating, fluttering and dragging along on the ground in a shower of sparks with the Brazilian setting the sixth-fastest time, nearly two seconds off the pace. Team mate Fernando Alonso took a huge chunk of kerb on the inside of Turn 6 as he tried to straighten the corner as much as possible, nearly losing the back end but managing to catch it.

With 12 minutes remaining in the session, Massa returned to the pits for a new front wing of the same design, but it was obviously stiffer and did not flutter as the previous one had. Regulations prevent a front wing from having any movement.

Force India had a good session, with Adrian Sutil fourth and Paul di Resta fifth late in the session, both just over half a second off the pace.

Vitaly Petrov was battling a lot of oversteer on his Renault and could only manage 14th.

As the last few minutes ticked away, Massa went second fastest, with Button setting a new fastest time of 1'25.942, improved seconds later by Alonso with a 1'25.784.

Button replied with a 1'25.191 - the fastest time of the weekend so far - with team mate Hamilton going second, just 0.097 sec behind.

But Webber made it even closer, going 0.012 sec slower than Button before Vettel eclipsed them all with a 1'24.824 - the only driver to break though the 85-second barrier.

2011 Indian F1 Grand Prix
Saturday Free Practice
Pos Driver Nat Team Time
1 Sebastian Vettel GER Red Bull 1'24.824
2 Jenson Button GBR McLaren +0.367
3 Mark Webber AUS Red Bull +0.379
4 Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren +0.464
5 Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari +0.960
6 Felipe Massa BRA Ferrari +1.234
7 Paul di Resta GBR Force India +1.961
8 Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes +2.049
9 Adrian Sutil GER Force India +2.134
10 Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso +2.322
11 Michael Schumacher GER Mercedes +2.393
12 Bruno Senna BRA Renault +2.411
13 Kamui Kobayashi JAP Sauber +2.438
14 Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault +2.456
15 Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso +2.563
16 Sergio Perez MEX Sauber +2.925
17 Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams +2.969
18 Rubens Barrichello BRA Williams +3.051
19 Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus +4.531
20 Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus +4.926
21 Timo Glock GER Virgin +5.859
22 Narain Karthikeyan IND Hispania +6.076
23 Jerome d'Ambrosio BEL Virgin +8.027
24 Daniel Ricciardo AUS Hispania +8.422


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