Sebastian Vettel promised to treat the Indian Grand Prix like any other race,despite a fourth successive title beckoning,and lived up to his word in Friday practice with the sort of domination Formula One fans have come to expect.
Red Bull’s 26-year-old German was fastest in both sessions,with Australian Mark Webber the only man close to matching the speed of his team mate.
Such is Vettel’s mastery of the Buddh International Circuit,a track swathed in a haze of pollution south of New Delhi,that he can boast of being top in every practice session held there since the opening day of the race’s debut in 2011.
On Friday his best lap of one minute 25.722 seconds,in the afternoon after clocking 1:26.683 in the earlier session,made him the only driver below the 1:26 mark.
Webber,who is leaving the sport at the end of the season,was 0.188 seconds slower in the first practice and 0.281 off the pace in the afternoon when Frenchman Romain Grosjean was third with a best time nearly half a second slower than Vettel’s.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg was the best of the rest for Mercedes in the morning with a lap 0.216 off his compatriot’s best effort.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso,the only man who can mathematically deny Vettel the title on Sunday,suffered a gearbox problem after six laps in the morning but was fifth fastest at the end of the day.
The Spaniard has to finish in the top two on Sunday to have any chance of denying Vettel the title on Indian soil.
Vettel,who has a 90-point lead over the Ferrari driver with four races worth 100 points in total remaining,is the runaway favourite to win the race.
He has won the previous two Indian Grands Prix from pole position as well as leading every competitive lap at the circuit.
Vettel will be the first Formula One driver to win his first four titles in a row,as well as the youngest quadruple champion.
Only seven-times champion Michael Schumacher and the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio have won four successive titles since the championship started in 1950. Frenchman Alain Prost is the sport’s only other four-times champion.
Grosjean was fourth for Lotus in the opening session,ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes,with the McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez sixth and seventh on the timesheets. Hamilton was fourth in the afternoon.
British reserve James Calado replaced compatriot Paul Di Resta in the Force India for the opening session after the team said the regular race driver had not felt 100 percent on Thursday.
Di Resta returned for the second session,after Calado went off late in the morning.
The main incident in the afternoon was provided by Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado,whose Williams shed a wheelnut while out on track. He managed to nurse the car back to the pitlane entry.