Lewis Hamilton insists Sebastian Vettel has the fastest car in Abu Dhabi
But Vettel talks McLaren challenge up after tight opening day
Last Updated: 02/11/12 10:49pm
Lewis Hamilton has played down his hopes of ending Red Bull's run of pole positions in Abu Dhabi on Saturday despite Sebastian Vettel suggesting the McLaren driver will pose a big threat to Red Bull.
The McLaren and Red Bull rivals dominated the battle for the top of the timesheets in the evening practice session at Yas Marina, with Hamilton setting the early pace on the medium tyres before Vettel edged ahead by nearly two tenths of a second on the softer rubber.
The pair therefore appeared closely matched, but reviewing a P2 session he described as a "bit of a struggle", Hamilton admitted McLaren found it difficult to make a big step forward on the theoretically faster option compound once again.
"It's very difficult to get the time out [on the soft tyres]," he told Sky Sports News.
"We had quite a good time on the prime and then people seemed to be finding eight tenths on the option, but I wasn't able to get any time out of it. So, yes, perhaps it's about switching the tyres on."
With that in mind, and the battle for pole to take place on the soft tyre come Q3, Hamilton therefore conceded:" If we get pole it will be fantastic. But we shouldn't get our hopes up; Sebastian's got a faster car."
That is a view shared by Sky Sports F1 pundit Anthony Davidson who declared: "I'm more than convinced that Sebastian Vettel has the pace to match, if not better, them all on the long runs. His car is looking very good."
However, Vettel himself wasn't quite prepared to write off McLaren yet. Asked if the stage was set for a direct duel with Hamilton, the German replied: "It looks like - at least today the battle was on with him."
He continued: "He was very quick on the medium tyre so we need to do a little bit of catching up to make sure we are very close to them and possibly ahead of them tomorrow."
Indeed, while appearing generally content with his opening day in Abu Dhabi, Vettel felt the team needed to still find more performance from the RB8 ahead of qualifying.
"I think we need to improve the car overnight," he told Sky Sports News' Craig Slater.
"The base wasn't bad but it was quite slippery today for all the drivers, all the cars. Many cars going off track here and there - trying to explore the limits, that's what we normally do on a Friday.
"I think we are more or less there but as I said we need to make sure we improve the car for tomorrow."
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh appeared to agree with Vettel that things would be tight at the front come Q3 provided that they too also made some "detail changes" to their car.
"While Lewis encountered some traffic during this evening's long-run simulation in FP2, Jenson was pleased to get some decent laps under his belt, particularly as a lack of running in Delhi last Friday had somewhat compromised our pace across the whole Indian Grand Prix weekend," he said.
"As always, this evening and tonight, our engineers will be keenly studying the data we gathered today - we feel we're in the ballpark, so some detail changes should leave us in a good position for what looks set to be an exciting and extremely close-fought qualifying session tomorrow afternoon."