McLaren sets Korea pace
KOREAN TRACK SWEEPER: McLaren's Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time in the first free practice session ahead of Sunday's Korean F1 GP.
YEONGAM, South Korea - Lewis Hamilton kept Ferrari's Formula 1 championship leader Fernando Alonso off the top of the timesheets in Friday's (October 12, 2012) first free practice for the Korean Grand Prix.
McLaren's Hamilton needs a win on Sunday to get back into a title fight that looks increasingly like a duel between Alonso and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, and the Briton lapped the dusty Yeongam circuit with a best time of one minute 39.148 seconds.
Alonso, four points clear of reigning champion Vettel with five races remaining, was 0.302 slower with Red Bull's Mark Webber third fastest ahead of Ferrari's resurgent Felipe Massa.
Vettel was fifth fastest while Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, having his first taste of the track some 400km south of Seoul due to his absence from F1 for the past two years, ended up 11th.
The Finn was trying out a new "Coanda" exhaust system that his team hopes will bring big benefits in the closing races as it battles Ferrari for third place in the constructors' standings.
With the circuit little used for most of the year, drivers took their time setting fast laps as they waited for the surface to clean up.
Alonso, who was pitched out at the start of the recent Japanese Grand Prix, was an early pacesetter with Hamilton faster towards the finish.
McLaren's Jenson Button was 10th fastest at a track he described on Thursday as: "Monza for the first 45 seconds of the lap, then a mid-high-speed section, quite flowing, and then you've got driving around your living room at the end of your lap."
Finland's Valtteri Bottas took Brazilian Bruno Senna's place for the session at Williams while French reserve Jules Bianchi came in for Nico Hulkenberg at Force India and was 13th.
Other less familiar faces for the morning were Dutch tester Giedo van der Garde for Russian Vitaly Petrov at Caterham and Spaniard Dani Clos replacing Indian race regular Narain Karthikeyan at HRT.
First free practice session from the Korean International Circuit on Friday:
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1min39.148sec
2 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1min39.450
3 Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull 1min39.575
4 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 1min39.854
5 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull 1min40.088
6 Michael Schumacher (Germany) Mercedes 1min40.221
7 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min40.396
8 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus 1min40.422
9 Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India 1min40.440
10 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min40.480
11 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus 1min40.929
12 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams 1min41.048
13 Jules Bianchi (France) Force India 1min41.140
14 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber 1min41.220
15 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Sauber 1min41.514
16 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso 1min41.596
17 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso 1min42.021
18 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams 1min42.027
19 Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) Caterham 1min42.104
20 Timo Glock (Germany) Marussia 1min42.175
21 Charles Pic (France) Marussia 1min42.706
22Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham 1min42.820
23 Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) HRT 1min44.517
24 Dani Clos (Spain) HRT 1min45.735
Stay with Wheels24 for the Korean F1 GP weekend