Lewis Hamilton overhauled Fernando Alonso in the final five minutes to finish on top of the opening practice session ahead of the Korean Grand Prix. Grip was at a premium on Friday morning as the drivers were greeted to a typically dirty Yeongam circuit but Hamilton had enough left in his Pirelli soft tyres to go fastest on a 1:39.148.
Kimi Raikkonen demonstrated the state of the track on his installation lap by running wide at turn four and it took a full twenty minutes before anybody deemed it fit enough to complete a timed lap. Valtteri Bottas was the first to do so with a 1:45.225 but Jenson Button, testing a raft of updates on his McLaren, lowered the benchmark to a 1:41.395 on his first effort of the weekend.
Sebastian Vettel kept quiet in his garage for over half the session but championship rival Fernando Alonso was keen to put the disappointment of Suzuka behind him. The Spaniard took his Ferrari round in 1:39.857 to move half a second clear of Button before Red Bull finally got down to business, with Mark Webber going second.
Half an hour from time, Alonso shaved four tenths off his personal best but Hamilton ensured his lead would be no more than 0.025s. With drivers seen locking their wheels instead of setting purple sector times, Alonso looked safe at the top of the leaderboard despite a heavy lock-up of his own at turn three, leaving a huge flat-spot on his right front.
Hamilton had other ideas though and despite having put twenty laps on his soft tyres, the Briton produced two laps quick enough to top the timesheets, eventually going three tenths faster than Alonso. Webber finished third ahead of the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa with Sebastian Vettel going fifth, just ahead of the two Mercedes’ of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
Apart from the occasional lock-up Romain Grosjean will have been glad of a low-key session in his Lotus, setting the eighth fastest time, while Paul Di Resta and Jenson Button completed the top ten ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the other E20.