Maldonado has a reputation as a street track specialist and has won on the Valencia Street Circuit in GP2. He looked very assured in this morning’s first practice session and went to the top of the timesheet at around the 50 minute mark.
Friday morning saw track temperatures around 14°C lower than their peak yesterday afternoon as heavy cloud cover descended on the Western Mediterranean, presenting conditions similar to those experienced in Montreal two weeks ago. There was no great rush to take to the circuit, with most drivers content to do only installation laps in the first third of the session. Only the Toro Rosso pair recorded times, while performing the public surface of cleaning the racing line on what is a very dirty, low-grip street course.
With an hour to go track action began to pick up, with first the Lotuses and then Rosberg’s Mercedes each briefly holding top spot. Then Maldonado appeared and was the first driver into the 1m40s bracket. His best time of 1:40.890 would stand for the rest of the session. Behind him Fernando Alonso went second for Ferrari before being eclipsed by the late-arriving Red Bulls. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were running with near-identical times. Webber initially took P2, within a tenth of Maldonado’s time, only to be supplanted in the last ten minutes by Vettel who lapped a hundredth of a second quicker than his Australian team-mate.
Behind them Jenson Button appeared to put his recent struggles behind him, taking fourth place, a tenth of a second behind Maldonado. He led Alonso, Paul Di Resta, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the top ten.
The session was largely trouble-free with most drivers completing around 20 laps. Daniel Ricciardo managed 28 laps as Toro Rosso worked to optimise their new exhaust system, while Timo Glock was only able to complete seven laps for Marussia.