Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton got the better of runaway Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel by setting the fastest time in Friday’s practice for the Korean Grand Prix.
Saturday’s qualifying again shapes up as being a shootout between Mercedes and Red Bull, with Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg and the Red Bulls of Vettel and Mark Webber all within two-tenths of a second of the leading time.
Red Bull and Mercedes have between them taken every front-row grid spot for the past 10 races.
”It’s been a good day,” Hamilton said. ”I feel like I have a bit of a better foundation this weekend. I can’t remember the last time I had a really strong Friday.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who is in second place in the drivers’ standings – a fading 60 points behind Vettel – was only seventh fastest, seven-tenths of a second off Hamilton’s time
In the morning session, several drivers ran wide off the unrubbered and dusty surface, with the major incident seeing Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen make heavy side-on impact with tire barriers just as the session ended.
The Finn admitted it was a simple case of driver error as he lost control of the car’s rear end, and allayed any fears that it had damaged his injured back and declared himself ready to participate in Saturday qualifying.
There was less slipping and sliding in the afternoon session, and Hamilton was able to wipe a second off his best lap from the morning, which also topped that session.
Ferrari and Lotus split the next four places behind the top two teams: Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was fifth fastest and Alonso seventh, with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean sixth and Raikkonen eighth. McLaren’s Jenson Button was ninth, and Force India’s Adrian Sutil was 10th.
Vettel has taken pole position in the past two races, has won the past three Grand Prix races, and is careering toward a fourth-successive world title.
Teammate Webber is unlikely to be a factor in qualifying, as he carries a penalty into the race that will see him fall 10 grid places on his qualifying position, so the team is expected to use an alternative strategy.
Mercedes has outperformed Red Bull in the overall pole showdown this season, having taken top spot in eight of 13 races, with Vettel getting the other five.