Felipe Massa fastest in practice at Russian Grand Prix

Britain's Jenson Button negotiates the wet track conditions at Sochi in his McLaren Honda. Picture: Getty

Britain's Jenson Button negotiates the wet track conditions at Sochi in his McLaren Honda. Picture: Getty

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WILLIAMS driver Felipe Massa was fastest in yesterday’s rain-hit second practice session for the Russian Grand Prix as only eight drivers posted a competitive time.

With dry weather forecast for the remainder of the weekend in Sochi, a number of drivers, including world champion Lewis Hamilton, sat out the second session.

Massa’s best lap of two minutes and 00.459 seconds was two-tenths quicker than the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel with Valtteri Bottas, in the other Williams, third.

Fernando Alonso, who was fifth fastest, was the only driver to complete more than eight laps in the 90-minute session .

The morning session in Sochi was also disrupted after a bizarre diesel spillage which delayed the on-track action by 30 minutes.

Organisers of the race, which runs through Sochi’s Olympic Park, were left deeply embarrassed by the incident, which was caused by a truck deployed to sweep the track, and vowed to launch an internal probe.

Track marshals and officials attempted to clean up the spillage by hosing down the affected areas with water, but it seemed to do little to aid the situation.

Vettel appeared to sum up the farcical mood, saying ‘’what a mess’’ as he passed through the scene of the spillage in sectors two and three on intermediate tyres when the session eventually got under way.

Race promoter Sergey Vorobyev said: “All the practice sessions are running according to schedule, so the incident is not critical. There was a diesel spill and it took us some time to clean it – which caused the delay.”

Alonso was the first to take to the circuit on slick tyres with 30 minutes of the opening practice session remaining. And, with a little over 10 minutes left, he was one of just four drivers who had posted a competitive lap. His McLaren team-mate Jenson Button had headed the timesheets in the slippery conditions. But, as the affected areas of the track began to dry, the rest of the pack emerged from their respective garages.

When the chequered flag fell it was Nico Hulkenberg who led the way in his Force India, but his best time of one minute and 44.355 seconds was the best part of six seconds slower than Hamilton’s pole lap here last year.

Hamilton, who heads into the race with a 48-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in the championship, set his first timed lap with just five minutes remaining. The Briton spun at turn 17 on his final run but avoided any contact with the barriers. He ended the session 1.4 seconds adrift of Hulkenberg in seventh place. Hulkenberg was 0.052 secs faster than Rosberg while Vettel, who also spun, was third fastest.

Meanwhile, F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone insists there will be a full quota of teams on the grid next season despite mounting uncertainty surrounding Red Bull’s future.

Red Bull, who won four consecutive driver and team titles between 2010 and 2013, have threatened to quit the sport if they cannot find a competitive engine supplier for next year.

The British-based team have severed ties with current engine supplier Renault for next season, while talks with Ferrari over a deal for 2016 appear to have stalled. It is understood Ferrari are concerned about the logistical costs of supplying engines to four other teams next year. In addition to Red Bull and their junior team Toro Rosso, Sauber are already on Ferrari’s roster, and they will also supply power units to newly-formed American outfit Haas in 2016.

But asked whether there will be 22 cars on the grid next season – with the imminent arrival of Haas – Ecclestone replied: “Yes, for sure.”

The 84-year-old added: “Everything’s been sorted out so I wouldn’t worry about it.”

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