Korea P2: Red Bull take the spoils
But situation over the race distance looks far closer between the top three title-chasing teams
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 12/10/12 11:27am
The Korean Grand Prix could prove a classic tale of two halves this weekend after Red Bull dominated the low-fuel running in Practice Two but McLaren edged the race simulations at the end of a fascinating opening day in Yeongam.
First, the single-lap story. While McLaren may have led the way in P1 with Lewis Hamilton, and the early minutes of the second session saw drivers from several teams trade fastest times, as P2 wore on the more ominious Red Bull's single-lap pace became.
Having already ended the soft-tyre runs first and second on the timesheet, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber consolidated their respective positions when they switched to the super-softs to end three tenths of a second up on Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and McLaren's Jenson Button.
However, the chasing pack later received plenty of encouragement when running their race simulations. Although Red Bull's pace was far from weak - and possibly more consistent on the tyres - it was was Button who lapped marginally fastest at this stage with the Ferraris also appearing right in the mix.
"It was the long runs, rather than the glory runs, that caught my attention when they put some fuel in that caught my attention," Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle declared at the end of the session.
"It looked intensely competitive. A lot of them in the mid-1:45s and that includes Lotus, Force India, McLaren. The Ferraris also look very strong around here and of course Red Bull right at the front. They're going for it and it bodes well for a very intense race at the front."
Anthony Davidson added: "I'd say they [Red Bull] have been the most consistent - but not the fastest."
Of course gauging the Friday times is the ultimate of dark arts in Formula 1 but the early feeling from Korea is that while Red Bull may again be without peer on Saturday, things could be somewhat closer come Sunday.
"The drop-off for the Red Bull is just not happening in the way that McLaren would like. This to me is pointing to a very interesting, strategic race.
Sky Sports F1's David Croft Quotes of the week
Indeed it's arguable that McLaren didn't show their full-single lap hand given morning pacesetter and usual qualifying leader Hamilton didn't complete a representative time on the super-softs, leaving him down in eighth place.
However, the Briton appeared what Ted Kravitz described as 'agitated' at the end of the session after a far from straightforward race simulation of his own.
Having locked up and run off the circuit at the first corner for the second time in the session, Hamilton opted to cut his losses and return to the McLaren garage with a few minutes of running still to go.
Mercedes, meanwhile, look set to be more competitive this weekend than was the case just days ago at Suzuka - the long straight that all-but makes up the first sector playing right into the strengths of the Double DRS-equipped W03.
Michael Schumacher, who finished P2 in fifth place, was duly fastest of all through the first sector with Nico Rosberg a couple of tenths further adrift in the sister car. The latter revealed to Sky Sports F1 afterwards that Schumacher had been trying out some new development parts which seemed to work well.
However, the session was not incident free for Schumacher who received a reprimand for impeding HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan.
The teams that ran directly ahead of Mercedes in Japan, namely Lotus, Sauber and Force India, all congregated around the fringes of the top ten by the end of Friday's running around a second off the Red Bull's pace.
After completing little running with the new exhaust on Kimi Raikkonen's car in P1, Lotus racked up 26 laps with the Finn in the afternoon and now all eyes will be on whether, unlike the problematic Double DRS system, they given the new layout the green light to race on Sunday.
Sergio Perez may have been closer than 15th but the McLaren-bound driver lost the second half of the season when his Sauber ground to a halt with a problem that was later traced to an actuator relating to the engine.
Note: Marussia later confirmed that Charles Pic will will take ten-place grid penalty on Sunday after the team were forced to install a ninth different engine on his car this season, triggering the mandatory penalty.