Lewis Hamilton's 'really strong' start leaves Red Bull braced for 'tight' Korean GP battle
Vettel expecting contest to be far closer than in Singapore
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 06/10/13 7:31am
Hamilton: Good day for Mercedes
Mercedes and Red Bull are gearing up for "tight" battle for supremacy at the Korean GP after both teams acknowledged the competitive picture appeared far closer than it was in Singapore.
Although the opening day of race weekends have recently proved the domain of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, it was Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton who pipped the World Champion to top spot in both practice sessions around the distinctive Mokpo circuit on Friday.
Even at the start of some of his strongest weekends in his encouraging debut year at Mercedes - particularly during the summer months when he claimed four straight poles and one win between Silverstone and Spa - Hamilton has generally been far from happy with the handling of his W04 in the wake of Friday practice.
However, after kicking off the Korean weekend with a very encouraging timesheet double top, Hamilton admitted things were different this time and that the pace of Mercedes boded well for the weekend.
"It's been a good day. Really happy with the way everything's gone. We've still got some improvements to make set-up wise, but we look like we're competitive like we were in the last race," the Briton told Sky Sports F1.
Asked if he could challenge for another pole position, Hamilton replied: "That's what I'm here to do and I definitely 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, so let's hope that continues through the weekend.
"It [the car] is feeling good. I've still some tweaks to make to it, but it should be good for tomorrow."
Indeed, Hamilton's position atop the Practice Two timesheet represented the first time anyone but Vettel had headed the generally more representative afternoon sessions in six races.
Vettel, chasing a fourth straight win this season and a Korean victory hat-trick, was content with his preparations for qualifying but conceded he wasn't expecting to enjoy the same large speed advantage he had two weeks ago at Marina Bay.
Vettel: Room for improvement
"Overall pretty happy. We had a solid day I would say, no issues with the car," he told Sky Sports F1.
"Surely there is room for improvement once we switch TC [traction control] on! No, I think there is room for improvement and I think it will be close this weekend with Mercedes."
And when asked if he thought their Brackley rivals were set to pose a stronger challenge this weekend, the 26-year-old replied: "Singapore was exceptional in many ways. It was close today, obviously you don't know what people are doing with fuel loads, but give or take ten kilos up or down it's still quite close I think.
"Tomorrow in qualifying it will be tight, especially because Mercedes is always performing pretty well in qualifying."
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.