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Red Bull duo Webber and Vettel sets Spain practice pace

Red Bull duo Webber and Vettel sets Spain practice pace

Red Bull threw down the gauntlet to their rivals by setting a formidable pace in first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel filled the top two places, with Webber a second quicker than his team-mate.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was third fastest, from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were sixth and ninth.

The teams were trying new parts they hope will raise their competitiveness.

But their work was made more difficult by a slippery track and a strong wind, and many drivers complained about a lack of grip - so much so that Renault's Vitaly Petrov told his engineers his tyres were "like ice".

Despite that, there were relatively few off-track incidents, although Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado continued his torrid debut season with a spin into the barriers at Turn 13.

Maldonado lost control through the corner, sliding wide onto the slippery outside of the track, where he was unable to stop the car continuing into the gravel trap and barrier.

BBC Radio 5 live analyst Maurice Hamilton said: "Once Maldonado got off line there was just no grip whatsoever. He lost it on the dirty side of the track. That's very embarrassing for him and very annoying. Maldonado needed a good clean weekend."

Williams are hoping this weekend will bring them the first points of the season after the worst start to a year in their history.

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Jenson Button was doing a constant speed aero test, he was trying out this new McLaren front wing, which has strakes underneath it.

BBC F1 pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz

They have a raft of new parts here, including new wings and an exhaust-blown diffuser and they received something of a boost when veteran Rubens Barrichello, who was trying out the developments, finished the first session 10th fastest.

At the front of the field, Webber and Vettel were trying out the latest developments that Red Bull hope will keep them clear of the competition.

They had a new floor, as well as new wheel rims, following a design principle pioneered by Ferrari that enhances the airflow in that area.

Webber's best lap was a one minute 25.142 seconds, which was 1.007secs quicker than Vettel as the two drivers ran different programmes.

But it was not a totally seamless morning for the world champions.

At one stage, Vettel was told by his engineer Guillaume Rocquelin to stop using his Kers energy recovery and power-boost system.

This has been Red Bull's Achilles' heel so far this season - only in one race have the drivers both been able to use it without any problems.

McLaren were running through a series of aerodynamic changes to the car.

Hamilton and Button actually have two races' worth of updates here after they were forced to abandon plans to use new parts in Turkey two weeks ago because of reliability concerns.

Hamilton had to pit early in the session for his mechanics to fix a loose seat and while he was in the pits Button tried out a new front wing.

BBC F1 pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz said: "Jenson Button was doing a constant speed aero test, he was trying out this new McLaren front wing, which has strakes underneath it.

"They were putting visibility paint on it. They'll take photos of the patterns the airflow creates and send them back to the factory for analysis."

Button reported an improvement to the car's rear stability.

Hamilton set his best time early in the session and spent the best part of an hour in the pits while the mechanics fixed a problem with his car. He made it back out on to the track with only two minutes to go.

Ferrari also had a new front wing, as well as rear wing and, like Red Bull, a new floor.

All the teams spent the session on the harder of the two tyre options - Pirelli has brought a new, more durable, version of its 'hard' tyre to Barcelona in response to the track's notoriously abrasive surface.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told BBC Sport: "We found that on some aggressive (track) surfaces, the tyre wasn't lasting quite long enough.

"We were going to introduce it in Turkey but we didn't want to give the teams too many changes. But it should give about five or six more laps (of life), which will give the teams something to think about when it comes to strategy."

Posted on Friday 20th May 2011

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