Lewis Hamilton has begun his Korean Grand Prix weekend in the best possible fashion by finishing quickest in the first free practice session in Yeongam, leading from Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel by the narrowest of margins on Friday morning.
The 2008 world champion and one-time pole-sitter at the Korean International Circuit posted a fastest time of 1:39.630 to finish just 0.037 seconds ahead of Vettel, with the German driver looking to win his fourth consecutive race this weekend. Having hit the front around sixty minutes through the ninety minute session, Hamilton ran strongly despite spinning his Mercedes W04 at one point. However, unlike many of his colleagues, he managed to keep it out of the wall and eventually finish the session on top.
Rodolfo Gonzalez and James Calado both got the chance to put in some laps for Marussia and Force India respectively, deputizing for full-time race drivers Jules Bianchi and Paul di Resta. However, Gonzalez did himself no favors by crashing the MR-02 car and eventually finishing seven seconds off Hamilton’s fastest time. Calado also failed to match the pace of the other Force India driver Adrian Sutil, finishing 1.5 seconds behind the German driver in eighteenth place.
Having not bothered the front-runners during the middle of the session, Vettel eventually came to the fore late on, having his first true attempt at overthrowing Hamilton in P1 ruined by a slow-going Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver only managed to post his first time of the session with eight minutes to go after suffering from a puncture that curtailed his first run. For Vettel, the time lost behind Massa was made up later on, coming within a fraction of Hamilton’s time.
The session came to an early end after Kimi Raikkonen crashed at the final corner having made a mistake that saw him spear into the wall. The Finn suffered from back problems in Singapore, and it is unlikely that such a hefty off will have done him any favors. However, he still managed to finish P8, albeit one second down on Hamilton at the front.
Mercedes do appear to have taken a step forward following their disappointing showing in Singapore, but with Vettel still up there at the front, Hamilton will be wary of the German driver as the Briton looks to claim his first victory in Korea this weekend.