• European Grand Prix - FP1

Rosberg sets early Valencia pace

ESPNF1 Staff
June 25, 2010 « Button predicts diffuser problems | »

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg topped a very tight first practice session at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, ahead of the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

All the top teams, with the exception of McLaren, have brought major updates to their cars and the early signs suggest it could turn this weekend's grand prix into a four-way battle between McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. Robert Kubica is also in the running with a revised Renault that was quick enough to set the fourth fastest time.

The top four were separated by just over half a second, with a bunch of drivers from fifth to tenth - including both Ferraris, both Red Bulls, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello - a further half second behind. But the times at this stage of the weekend are not necessarily indicative of the drivers' true pace, as the teams with new parts approached the 90 minute session as a test rather than free practice.

Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault all ran blown diffusers, which channel the fast-moving hot gases from the exhausts into the diffuser to generate more rear downforce. The nature of the design, which has been used by Red Bull all season, means certain components are subject to very high temperatures, and all three teams placed heat sensors at the back of their cars to gather data. Meanwhile Red Bull ran its latest version of the F-duct, which was left off the car in Canada due to teething problems in Turkey. In theory it should result in a higher top speed, but the two McLarens, that have been running the system since pre-season testing, still have an advantage through the speed traps.

Another reason not to read too much into the times was the condition of the track. A dusty surface meant it was very slippery and a number of the top drivers ran wide at turn two. All of them managed to avoid the wall but it was clear they were struggling with some graining from the Bridgestone tyres.

Despite a lack of accidents, the session did have to be stopped midway through when Bruno Senna's wing mirror flew off his HRT at high speed. The mirror ricocheted off Senna's helmet and was run over several other cars before it came to a rest in the middle of the track. The marshals red flagged the action so they could get on to the circuit safely and clear away the offending object.

Senna was completely unharmed and will probably be more concerned about the overall reliability of his car, as both he and Christian Klien - who was in Karun Chandhok's HRT for the morning session - missed out on at least 40 minutes of running with reliability problems.

The afternoon session should give a clearer view of the pecking order for Saturday's qualifying, as the teams bolt on soft tyres and the track conditions improve.

The second session begins at 13.00 BST.