x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Changes to sidepod and rear wing help make Sebastian Vettel quickest

Some re-sculpted sidepods and adjustments to the rear wing help Sebastian Vettel put up the fastest practice times for the European Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel made good use of the new sidepods and rear wing to drive to the top of the practice time sheets at the European Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel made good use of the new sidepods and rear wing to drive to the top of the practice time sheets at the European Grand Prix.

VALENCIA // Sebastian Vettel, aiming for a hat-trick of successive titles at the European Grand Prix, clocked the fastest lap during the weekend's two opening practice sessions on Friday to dampen hopes of an unprecedented eighth winner from eight races.

A third straight victory at one of Formula One's typically duller races would likely not rank near the top of the German's list of achievements.

However, ending the remarkable sequence of results that has seen seven different drivers win the first seven races would be warmly welcomed by the world champion, who has had his abilities questioned this season.

After finishing fourth in Canada, Red Bull Racing are running an upgraded package that includes re-sculpted sidepods and alterations to the adjustable rear wing. They seemed to work as Vettel topped the time sheets ahead of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber under cotton-wool clouds at Valencia Street Circuit.

Even for a season as close-fought as this one, however, the time margins between the cars was tight. In the morning session, when Pastor Maldonado proved fastest, the top nine drivers were within 0.292 seconds of each other.

By the afternoon the gap had grown, but only barely: one second covered the fastest 15 cars.

"We have some new bits, but lap times are not allowing us to have a fair conclusion yet," said Vettel, who was fastest on a Friday for the first time this season.

"For us, it was important to have a clean practice, a clean day with no trouble and no problems. I am quite happy with what we did.

"I think conditions might change quite a bit until Sunday - again it was surprisingly cool [yesterday]. Sunday will be quite a bit hotter, which could make a difference, but now we are collecting some good data and we'll see [today] whether we made a step or not."

Following Romain Grosjean's second-place finish in Montreal - his second podium of the season - the Frenchman and Lotus teammate Kimi Raikkonen have arrived in Spain with high expectations.

Both impressed under heavy fuel conditions on Friday and Grosjean said his target in the final practice session Saturday morning is to unlock the qualifying pace the team has so far lacked in the afternoon.

"If you work more on qualifying, then you work less on the race," he said.

"We have seen that from seventh we can finish second or third, so it is not the end of the world if we don't qualify very well. But for sure we are going to work a little bit more on that."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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