Maldonado And Vettel Top Friday Practice Sessions In Valencia

Pastor Maldonado and Sebastian Vettel took top spot in the two Friday practice sessions in Valencia ahead of the 2012 European Grand Prix, but the weekend's results look wide open between a number of teams after two very tightly-contested sessions.

A return to Spanish soil for the first time since Maldonado's victory in Barcelona saw the Williams driver back at the head of the field in first practice.

The Venezuelan was only 0.083 seconds ahead of Vettel however, with the second Red Bull of Mark Webber also lapping within a tenth of the pace.

After a difficult pair of races in Monaco and Canada, Jenson Button showed promise as he set the fourth fastest time despite complaining of both a KERS issue and excessive front locking during the course of the session.

Home favourite Fernando Alonso was fifth quickest in the opening session, ahead of Paul Di Resta who showed good pace in a Force India.

The Scot edged out Michael Schumacher, who in turn was just ahead of Canada winner Lewis Hamilton as well as his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. All of the top nine were within three tenths of each other.

There have been high hopes for Lotus coming into the weekend, but Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were only tenth and 11th, four and six tenths adrift of Rosberg respectively.

Young hopefuls Jules Bianchi and Valtteri Bottas were given chances by Force India and Williams respectively and were 15th and 16th – some way off their teammates.

The second session saw Vettel, winner of the previous two races in Valencia, ahead of fellow German Nico Hulkenberg – the Force India continuing to show its pace.

Kamui Kobayashi was third ahead of Schumacher, with another surprise package coming in the form of Bruno Senna in fifth. Like Hulkenberg, the Brazilian had sat out the first session but was now backing up the pace that Maldonado had shown.

Di Resta was again sixth, ahead of Alonso and Grosjean as seven different makes filled the top eight places – with Force India the only team to have both its drivers put in strong times.

It wasn't the greatest session for McLaren in terms of times, with Button and Hamilton only mustering 12th and 14th. They sandwiched Maldonado, who was back on top early on before getting shuffled down the order. The top 15 were all covered by less than a second, however.

It was a good day for Caterham, with Heikki Kovalainen outpacing the Toro Rosso drivers by three tenths in the morning and Vitaly Petrov Рtwice a winner around the circuit in GP2 Рtaking his turn to better both Red Bull prot̩g̩s in the second session. The team's fastest driver was only just over 1.5s off the pace each time.

Pedro de la Rosa had an early end to his day after hitting the tyre wall in an odd-looking incident at turn 14.