Lewis Hamilton recovered from his disastrous morning to set the fastest time in the more representative second Friday session.
When the soft or ‘option’ tyres were brought out to play for a qualifying simulation it was the Silver Arrows who stormed to the front with Hamilton posting a 1:29.625 just ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg as the W05 was the only car to go sub-90 seconds.
Fernando Alonso continued Ferrari’s theme of being near the top without standing out taking third with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo maintaining Red Bull’s apparent about-turn in performance in fourth and sixth.
If Red Bull were the big improvers on Friday, then Williams appeared to slip back a little compared to the highs predicted.
Valtteri Bottas remained close to the leading times in eighth but Felipe Massa was down in 12th as the times proved much closer than many predicted.
Lotus’ poor day continued as Pastor Maldonado’s issues from opening practice kept him in the garage for the second hour-and-a-half, while Romain Grosjean’s day ended in the gravel trap after 12 laps, but after being the only realistic challenger to Red Bull towards the end of 2013, the Frenchman could only finish 18th.
Another Renault-powered team, Caterham, also failed to overcome the woes from FP1 with neither Kamui Kobayashi or Marcus Ericsson turning a lap.
The final half an hour was taken up with the usual race simulation and this is where most believed the issues seen by Red Bull would reappear.
However the RB10 continued to run smoothly and competitively as well with both Ricciardo and Vettel lapping not too far off the apparent pace setting Mercedes and ahead of the seemingly thirsty Ferrari.
The theme of the long run was fuel saving, which is critical this year with only 100 kg of fuel allowed for the 300km on Sunday, for the Mercedes and two Red Bull teams this seemed to be not a major issue, and with the Pirelli tyres proving to be durable the drivers were able to push harder.
However as I mentioned the Ferrari engine unit does seem to be more fuel hungry than the others, as a result – despite the works car in-particular having good speed – the drivers were unable to take advantage of the longer life tyres as they were saving fuel.
Analysing the day the pecking order most had predicted has largely been vindicated with Mercedes and other similarly powered teams the quicker teams with only Ferrari, but more surprisingly Red Bull, also in the mix.
Lotus’ problems from testing were very real with simply finishing the race a seemingly impossible task, while Caterham, who were the most reliable Renault team from testing, have also got big issues.
Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso look set to restart their midfield battle from 2013 with potentially Marussia joining the group as Jules Bianchi particularly, look much more competitive.
More answers will be given in the all important qualifying on Saturday but based on Friday we look set for a very competitive season.
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