Korea set for close strategic battle?

Friday's practice sessions suggest that while Red Bull are quickest over a single lap, McLaren and Ferrari look to have an edge in race trim

By Pete Gill.   Last Updated: 13/10/12 8:38am

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Though Friday appearances can be deceptive, it looks as if the Korean GP will prove to be fascinating battle of strategic chess with Red Bull holding the advantage in qualy trim but both Ferrari and McLaren boasting the edge in race trim.

While Sebastian Vettel set the headline-grabbing fastest time in Friday's Practice Two, the small print of the afternoon session revealed plenty of tangible encouragement for Ferrari and McLaren - and hopes for a classic grand prix on Sunday - with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button consistently faster than both Red Bulls when running heavy fuel loads on the super-soft compound.

"You are the fastest car on option tyres. This pace is very, very good," an evidently-impressed McLaren assured Jenson as he regularly lapped around two-tenths faster than Vettel and another couple of tenths quicker than Mark Webber in the second Red Bull.

The average times of World Championship leader Alonso whilst running his race simulation were quicker still, the Spaniard appearing to be several tenths faster than the two Red Bulls.

"It was the long runs rather than the glory runs which caught my attention," noted Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle. "It looks intensely competitive, with a lot of cars in the one minute forty-fives.The Ferraris look very strong - and stronger than they did in Suzuka. It bodes well for a very intense race."

Were Friday's pattern to be repeated then the weekend is set up for a classic tortoise-and-hare scenario with the RB8 - adorned by a new front-wing which Brundle termed a "work of art" - on top in qualifying before being steadily reeled in on Sunday.

Vettel certainly admitted to reporters afterwards that, although Red Bull could be happy with their opening day's work, they still needed to respond to the pace displayed by their key rivals.

"All in all we can be quite happy. It looks extremely tight. I'm not happy with every run we had today, but I think the track was changing quite a lot this morning, it was better than we expected," the World Champion said.

"This afternoon to start with it it was quite slippery, but then I think it got a little bit better so, all in all I think the car felt alright and now we see what we can do for tomorrow. I think we have to improve ourselves to match the others."

Yet while Button and the two Ferraris impressed, Lewis Hamilton endured another troubled day at the office despite setting the morning's fastest time on soft tyres that had already completed over twenty laps. In contrast to Button's serene progress in the afternoon, Hamilton failed to improve his fastest lap when running the super-softs and then aborted his race simulation on the softs after flat-spotting a tyre at the first corner.

"The first session was fantastic so I don't really know what's happened in this session," Hamilton lamented to Sky Sports News.

"We need to analyse and I need to look [at what happened]. Wind directions change but it didn't seem to affect other people so I have to try and figure that out."

Yet with Hamilton ending the day short of data and on the backfoot, he may have to turn to Button for help - a prospect carrying the additional resonance of their midweek twitter malarkey.

"First of all Lewis has to find out from his engineers whether there is anything wrong with the McLaren because the way his tyres dropped off so dramatically he might think there's maybe a broken bit of suspension or maybe an anti-roll bar or something isn't working badly because it was that bad," confirmed Sky F1's Ted Kravitz.

"Normally Lewis Hamilton can drive around problems like that, but he couldn't. So firstly they'll see if something's wrong; secondly they will share pretty much all their information and if necessary Hamilton will take Button's set-up. He can drive fairly well with that and we'll see if that works well for him in third practice.

"For Hamilton it is still possible to win the championship but he really needs a win here and if he doesn't it's almost goodbye for his championship challenge. Lewis knows it's time to deliver and point one of that is getting on pole position."

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