MERCEDES driver Nico Rosberg showed once again he has the car to challenge the top drivers, clocking the fastest lap in practice yesterday at the rain-soaked British Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
Rosberg, who won the Monaco GP and was on pole at the Spanish GP, was 0.299 seconds faster than Webber. It was the first time the Australian had been on track since surprising his team on Thursday by announcing he would be leaving Formula 1 at the end of the season to race sports cars. “On one lap the car is still quick, so qualifying should be okay,” Rosberg said. “But the question mark is our race speed. We practiced the race speed today and it felt decent so far. But it could be a completely different picture on Sunday as the weather should be a lot warmer, so we don’t know where we are right now compared to the others. I’m still quite confident that we can have a good weekend.”
Vettel, the three-time defending champion, was 0.432 seconds behind as he looks to extend his lead atop the drivers’ championship.
The German has a 36-point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with 12 races remaining. Lotus driver Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is fourth. “I think overall we can be pretty happy. It was a good day,” Vettel said. “Obviously it was important to get some laps in the dry as we expect dry conditions on Sunday. Now we need to have a look at what we can improve, have a look what the others did and then we’ll know a little bit more for tomorrow.”
Force India’s Paul Di Resta was the leading Briton in fourth place with Rosberg’s team-mate Hamilton, the 2008 champion, fifth fastest, while Alonso settled for tenth and Raikkonen 13th.
Hamilton called it “quite a challenging day,” adding: “I’m struggling a little with the balance of my car so there’s some work to do overnight to get us into shape for qualifying. We haven’t quite got it hooked up yet and you can really tell that on this circuit.” On a rainy day at Silverstone, teams were forced to get much of their track time in on the second session after rain washed out most of the first practice. The track was mostly dry but it still caused plenty of problems for Alonso’s team-mate, Felipe Massa. Massa spun and crashed into a wall on Turn 15, the latest setback for the Brazilian who has had crashes in two earlier races. He crashed in practice and the race at Monaco and then in qualifying at the Canadian GP.
“I am very disappointed about what happened today as the accident cost me valuable time, especially in terms of getting an understanding of the tyre behaviour here at Silverstone,” Massa said. “At the exit of the corner, I found myself on a piece of track that was still very damp and I lost control of the car. Luckily, the car only suffered slight front end damage and tomorrow we will comfortably be able to pick up where we left off with the work.”
LOTUS team boss Eric Boullier is hoping Kimi Raikkonen’s love for the environment created at Enstone will persuade him to spurn the amorous attentions of Red Bull.
Christian Horner has made it clear that Raikkonen, along with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, is in the running to fill the seat that will become vacant with Mark Webber’s decision to quit Formula One at the end of the year.
This makes for an uncomfortable situation for Boullier and Lotus, who took a gamble initially to sign Raikkonen after he departed F1 under a cloud at the end of 2009 for a two-year sabbatical in rallying.
Lotus made Raikkonen one of the top three highest-paid drivers in the sport and kept him happy off track by limiting his sponsorship and promotional activities.
It now appears to be a question of convincing Raikkonen that Lotus can go on to match Red Bull who are on course to win four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ crowns.
“Red Bull are chasing Kimi, and we obviously want to keep Kimi. He can only guess what he could get with Red Bull, but he knows what he has. The environment he has suits him, as he has told us this many times” said Boullier.