Lewis Hamilton was top of the timesheets after a wet day of Friday practice in Korea, setting a lap that was 0.104 seconds faster than McLaren team-mate Jenson Button.
Sebastian Vettel, who won his second drivers’ championship five days ago at Suzuka, finished the day 1.818 seconds off the pace of Hamilton whilst Fernando Alonso was fourth fastest.
Nico Rosberg was involved in the only major incident of the day as he hit Jaime Alguersauri in turn one, just as the Toro Rosso driver was exiting the pit lane. Race director Charlie Whiting has now decided that drivers approaching turn one will be warned if another car is exiting the pits, and vice versa.
There were a few drivers heading out of the pits towards the end of FP2 on dry tyres, but they were unable to set any competitive lap times. If the race on Sunday is wet, Hamilton believes that McLaren should be in a good position to make the most of the conditions, but is nevertheless optimistic for qualifying tomorrow.
“Today's times don't really give us a relevant read on pace and set-up, particularly as I hear that the weather will be better for the next two days,” he said. “Still, if it rains on Sunday then I think we're in a good position – which is a positive.
“It would be great to get the pole here tomorrow: it's difficult to read too much into today's times – the lap on slicks at the end was impossible – but I think we are quick, the car is good and Jenson showed at the last race that we can be very competitive. So I have no doubt that we'll be able to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying.
“I think we'll get a much better feel for things tomorrow.”
Rosberg completed just 18 laps in FP2 due to the incident with Alguersuari. However, the German is not particularly concerned about the lack of track time, given the improving weather forecasts for the remainder of the weekend.
“My car was running well in the conditions we had today, but the weather is expected to change for Saturday and Sunday, so it will be interesting to see how it works out tomorrow,” said Rosberg. “The collision was a tricky situation and unfortunately brought my session to an early conclusion but at least I didn’t miss out on any dry running.”
Michael Schumacher finished the morning session top of the timesheets, just as he did during FP1 in Spa-Francorchamps a few races ago, but was only P14 in FP2 – six places and over a second behind Rosberg.
“Today was one of those Fridays where most of what you do is race preparation, knowing that the conditions will probably be totally different when it comes to Sunday,” said the seven-time world champion. “Through both practice sessions, it was too wet to use dry tyres, while the forecast for the rest of weekend is dry. However you can learn a lot about the car and how it works on the track, and that is what we were doing most of the time today. We now have to look deep into the data we gathered and try to work out the best way to approach the rest of the weekend.”
Free Practice 1 did not provide ideal conditions for Jean-Eric Vergne to make his 2011 practice debut, but the French rookie managed to complete 9 laps.
“I found this morning session quite difficult because of the very wet track conditions, although I am happy with what I have done, because I didn't crash the car and I had some fun as well,” he said. “It is difficult to judge how I did, because normally in a session like this, you get two runs with time in between to look at the data and see how to improve, but the weather meant that was not possible this morning. I had nothing to compare myself with and I definitely am not comparing my performance to any other drivers today. It was just a case of getting some experience and learning a bit more about how the team operates.”
For early indications of possible pole-positions contenders, the Friday practice in Korea today did not give away too many clues. However, after getting a front row grid slot at Suzuka last weekend and setting the second fastest time of FP2, Button thinks that his team should be able to compete for pole tomorrow.
“Our car was quick in today's conditions – but it's difficult to say how it will be in the dry,” he said. “I hope it'll be the same: it'd be nice to have the same gap back to the cars behind, but that's unlikely.
“We didn't really learn too much today – the humidity was so high that the track never really dried out. It looked like it was going to be dry right at the very end, but you couldn't get any grip from the slicks because you couldn't get any temperature into them.
“Over the last few races, we've been getting stronger in qualifying. I'd love to qualify well here, and I'll definitely be giving it a go, but P3's also going to be very important tomorrow because nobody knows how the cars behave on high fuel and dry tyres.”
Vettel was not too bothered about being behind the McLaren duo today though. As he points out, things could all change if the weather improves, and he could easily collect his thirteenth pole position of 2011 tomorrow.
“It was an interesting day,” said the German. “For Saturday and Sunday the weather forecast is dry, so whatever we learned today might not be worth a lot this weekend, although we can use it for future races when it's damp or wet. Unfortunately the track didn't dry out at all today, so we didn't get a chance to try the slick tyres, so we'll find out in the race I guess. It's a tough track for tyres here, even though you have a long straight, there's hardly any rest after that, so it's not easy. The car feels okay though and that's important.”