Formula 1: Red Bulls’ charge hurts Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton cut a downbeat figure with his title hopes looking increasingly slim after a difficult day in Korea.
Hamilton topped the opening practice session at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, but could only manage the eighth-fastest time in the afternoon running, team-mate Jenson Button was fourth.
Hamilton’s best lap was nearly nine-tenths of a second slower than the pacesetting Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
The Mercedes-bound McLaren driver is 42 points adrift of championship leader Fernando Alonso, and 38 behind second-placed Vettel.
With Red Bull again looking like the car to beat after their domination in Japan, Hamilton is already on the back foot, and he was pessimistic when asked if he felt he could compete with Vettel and Webber, particularly in qualifying.
“I am not sure, the Red Bulls seem pretty quick, but we will keep pushing,” he said. “Jenson was not that far off the pace today and if we get the set-up right and the fuel loads right and everything then maybe we can be competitive.
“I was just struggling a bit with set-up today. The first session was fine but for the second one we made some set-up changes and I wasn’t able to get a time out of the option tyre, but we will make changes tonight and find out (what went wrong). In general in the second session the option and the prime tyre were both a disaster for me.”
The 27-year-old appeared to be at a loss to explain his lack of pace, as well as his ability in making the super-soft tyres last over a longer run.
“It was such a big difference from the first session to the second session and I only made a small change on the rear ride-height so I don’t understand it yet,” he said.
“We tried some different things and I was not able to get a good time out of the option or the prime, and on the option I went slower.
“The first session was pretty good and we barely changed anything, so I have to figure out what was going on.”
Team-mate Button was by far the more content of the McLaren drivers, but is also concerned by the one-lap speed of Red Bull.
He said: “This afternoon on low fuel and high fuel we have made good progress. We are still not quick enough but we are going in the right direction. They (Red Bull) have four tenths advantage again in practice and I think they are going to be very difficult to beat in qualifying. They seem to have that strength back.
“Our race pace today seemed to be competitive but over one lap we are still lacking, but I think the adjustments we have made are positive and there is more to come.
“At the moment it does not look like we are as quick as the Red Bulls, but it’s only practice. Our race pace feels good and, forgetting about the lap times, our consistency feels good.
“We still have a lot of work to do to fight with the Red Bulls but I think we are going in the right direction.”
Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, insists he does not care about his lack of pace in practice and fully expects Lotus to take a big step forward as the weekend progresses.
The Finn is fast becoming the forgotten man of the battle for this year’s World Championship, despite being ahead of Hamilton and in third place of the drivers’ standings.
However, on a “difficult” Friday for the Lotus team, Raikkonen could only manage 11th and 10th fastest times, and was a second adrift of Vettel in the afternoon session.
The 2007 world champion does expect an improvement to be seen tomorrow, and was quick to point out that Friday times count for little.
“Friday is when you try different things as it is the only time you can test different things. You want to get the car right and you have to test,” he said.
“I don’t care about the laptime, if you get a good understanding of the stuff you can try and put it together tomorrow.
“I would think we expected a bit more (from the exhaust system) than what we have seen so far but it is too early to say.
“We are more or less where we usually are on a Friday and hopefully we can improve the car and be faster tomorrow.
“I would not say the car felt very good today but we were maybe one second off the pace and if we get it right we can easily get better, although other people might improve also.”
It was also a bad day for Marussia’s Charles Pic, who will take a 10-place grid penalty at this weekend’s Grand Prix after exceeding his engine allocation for the season.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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