World championship leader Sebastian Vettel and home favourite Fernando Alonso both played down the significance of their performances yesterday after they had dominated proceedings on the opening day of practice for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, who was fastest for Ferrari in the morning and then narrowly second quickest behind the triple world champion's Red Bull in the afternoon, said he remained optimistic of realising his dream, but conceded it would be difficult.
Vettel, satisfied with his speed and the data the team accumulated during a stop-start day that saw the morning session run in changeable wet and mixed conditions, said he was wary of Ferrari's pace, but not concerned.
"We were pretty happy today trying to get as much information on both sets of tyres, both compounds, and we have to go from there," said 25-year-old German.
"This morning was a waste of time in those conditions, but this afternoon was fairly conclusive. It is better to be more or less on the top of the time-sheets than somewhere in the middle on Friday."
Much as expected he and Alonso emerged again as the main protagonists at the Circuit de Catalunya where the Spaniard hopes to take his first win on home soil since 2006 in Sunday's race.
"It's still a dream," he said. "It's something that it's extremely difficult to get, not just in front of your home fans. You need many factors to come together to win on Sunday so let's start with qualifying tomorrow. We know how important it is to start from the first two rows here in Barcelona."
Vettel outpaced the Ferrari man with a best time of 1 min 22.808 secs after Alonso had delighted his compatriots during a wet morning session by clocking the early fastest time.
Just 0.083 seconds covered the top three men as Alonso split the two Red Bulls of Vettel and his teammate Australian Mark Webber, who was third fastest. Alonso was just 17-thousandths of a second slower than Vettel.
After an all-Mercedes-GP battle involving both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the early stages of the afternoon session, it was Alonso and the Red Bulls that dominated the lead order through the low-fuel runs in the final part.
Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus was fourth fastest ahead of Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari, Hamilton and Rosberg, with the struggling McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez down in 12th and 13th respectively.
Hamilton spun his Mercedes at Turn 11 during the early runs, swiftly rejoining without problems and ultimately taking sixth on a day when tyre wear was again a major issue with Paul di Resta suffering a major scare when the left rear tyre on his Force India car delaminated on the main straight.
The Scot parked his car on the grass. He ended up 10th, two places behind teammate Adrian Sutil.
Despite Ferrari's clear improvement, Vettel said he believed Red Bull are in good shape for Sunday's race."I think they have always been strong in the race, so we will see," he said.
"It is difficult to predict the weather for Sunday so we have to wait, focus on the car now and have a good free practice tomorrow morning and hopefully a good qualifying to prepare for the race."
Vettel warned that Red Bull could not expect much assistance from Pirelli's new hard tyre compound, saying it did little to arrest his team's previous concerns about aggressive compounds.
"It is difficult to say a lot about the new hard tyre," he said. "We didn't expect any miracle and as it turned out I don't think it is a massive difference."
Alonso said: "I think there is still a long way until qualifying. The car seems to be competitive, in the long runs as well, so it's a positive start, but we've had many Fridays with positive starts and then we see in qualifying that the Mercedes flies or that the Red Bull is in front of everybody."
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