Slowest and last in the morning, Sebastian Vettel bounced back to top the times for Ferrari in Friday’s unpredictable second free practice session for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
But the four-time world champion German had little to celebrate on a cold and cloudy afternoon in the Styrian Alps as his session ended early due to gearbox problems – the reason he flopped in the morning – while all the drivers struggled to generate enough warmth in their tyres to deliver decent lap times.
Vettel’s best lap was clocked in 1min 9.600sec, enabling him to outpace his nearest rivals Finns Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, by 0.011sec, and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by 0.260. Rosberg had topped the times in the morning ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.
The defending world champion and series leader Hamilton was down in fifth in the second Mercedes, 0.537sec adrift, behind Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado who was fourth for Lotus before going off through the gravel at Turn Three in the closing minutes.
German Nico Hulkenberg was sixth for Force India ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso, Brazilian Felipe Nasr of Sauber and Mexican Sergio Perez in the second Force India.
On a day of incidents and problems, Hamilton struggled to find his form notably with the ‘super soft’ tyres and appeared to be ragged and lacking precision around the short Red Bull Ring circuit, where he locked up frequently at the first and last turns. Hamilton qualified ninth last season.
The struggling McLaren-Honda team endured another torrid day and in the second session was forced to abandon the fray with both cars. Briton Jenson Button gave up after 17 laps with an engine problem that led to the team calling two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso in to avoid a similar problem.
Brazilian Felipe Massa also had problems on his way to 15th in the second Williams at the track where he took pole last year, a place ahead of Alonso. Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was only 17th and Button 18th.
Whatever the outcome in qualifying, Ricciardo will be penalised ten grid places for using an extra power unit beyond his season’s allocation.