Vettel paces Hungarian practice
Formula One leader Sebastian Vettel showed he is the driver to beat in qualifying after posting the fastest times in both practice runs Friday for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The three-time defending F1 champion twice finished comfortably ahead of teammate Mark Webber as Red Bull recorded an impressive 1-2.
Vettel left it quite late before doing a timed lap in the morning, but was quickly into his stride to set a time of 1 minute, 22.723. In searing afternoon temperatures, he was comfortably faster than that, clocking 1:21.264.
"There's some room for improvement," Vettel said. "My long run wasn't completely clean."
Lotus will also be confident for Saturday's qualifying.
Kimi Raikkonen was third best in the morning and Romain Grosjean matched him in the afternoon.
Vettel has never won in Hungary. He is looking to extend his overall lead over Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, who was fourth in both sessions.
"I am not thinking about the championship and the title too much," Vettel said. "If you look back to last year, or 2010, it was going down to the wire. So never feel too comfortable where you are."
On this form, however, the German will be strongly expected to secure his fourth pole position. He has won four races so far this season, including two of the past three.
Webber finished .44 behind him, Grosjean was .153 back, and Alonso trailed by .162.
It is the first practice day since F1 tire manufacturer Pirelli buckled under intense pressure to modify its tires. Pirelli provided medium and soft tires for the Hungaroring and drivers looked comfortable all day.
"The car felt good and the team did a great job," Webber said. "It's a demanding circuit and the conditions are set to stay the same, so I don't think we'll be changing a huge amount tonight."
Raikkonen switched to soft for another timed run late in the day but he had to abort after being held up by Jenson Button.
The track temperature rose to 47 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) on a hot afternoon on the 4.381-kilometer (2.7-mile) circuit -- the third shortest in F1 after Monaco and Canada.
With 14 corners and short straights, it is the second most difficult track to overtake on after Monaco, and it will be hard to stop Vettel from winning again if he starts from pole.
Three weeks ago, he extended his lead over Alonso with a victory at his home GP and he leads the Spaniard by 34 points in the last race before the midseason break.
"Fernando and Kimi are consistent and quick, and never underestimate Mercedes," Vettel said. "They've made a huge leap forward from the first couple of races. Tires are changing again, so this could mix up the whole matter, too."
Ten years ago, Alonso became F1's youngest winner at 22 years, 26 days with his victory in Hungary. His record was beaten by Vettel five years later.
Raikkonen still has an outside shot of winning his second F1 title, sitting 41 points behind Vettel in third.
The 26-year-old Vettel is favored by some to surpass Michael Schumacher's record of seven F1 titles.
"Thoughts like that are never on my mind," Vettel said. "I am not waking up in the morning thinking to myself, `Wow, 2011 was a fantastic year, 2012 was awesome,' and so on. I wake up and I'm in the here and now."
Last week, teams held in-season testing sessions at Silverstone to assess new tires provided by Pirelli after several spectacular blowouts on the same circuit at the British Grand Prix in June prompted a furious response and even a boycott threat from drivers.
Pirelli decided that from this race until the end of the season, it will revert to last year's tires combined with the current compounds from this season.