Massa sets pace in Sochi

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who has won three races this year, during yesterday's second practice session for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. "What a mess," said the German driver of the conditions.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who has won three races this year, during yesterday's second practice session for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. "What a mess," said the German driver of the conditions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hamilton, Rosberg upstaged in practice as diesel spill and rain disrupt build-up in Russia

SOCHI (Russia) • Formula One fans endured more spills than thrills at the Russian Grand Prix yesterday after a cleaning truck leaked diesel across the circuit before the first practice and rain washed out the afternoon session.

Force India's Nico Huelkenberg eventually topped the morning timesheets while Felipe Massa was fastest for Williams after lunch.

Neither session offered much for the crowd sheltering in the stands, let alone those viewing from afar, with only eight drivers setting a lap time in the afternoon.

The Mercedes drivers, whose team could clinch their second successive constructors' title tomorrow, failed to set a time after lunch.

They did at least achieve that in the first session, with world champion Lewis Hamilton leaving it until the last five minutes to complete a lap and ending up seventh on the timesheets.

Huelkenberg led a practice session for the first time this season after banging in a quick lap right at the finish, 0.052sec quicker than Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, for a best time of 1min 44.355sec.

Hamilton, who leads team-mate Rosberg by 48 points with five races remaining, had been second fastest with two minutes to go as the track got quicker and would have been faster without a late spin.

The opening 90-minute session was reduced to an hour as workers hosed and cleaned the track following the significant spillage from a truck that had been supposed to sweep the asphalt.

When drivers did go out, on wet tyres, it was on a slippery track with ominous rainclouds replacing the early morning sunshine.

"What a mess," exclaimed Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel over the team radio after driving through the affected Turns 7 and 8. The German was third fastest in the morning and second in the afternoon.

"It is really slippery," agreed Sauber's Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson.

No time was set for the first 20 minutes before McLaren's Fernando Alonso, who will start from the back of the grid due to penalties for engine changes following a Honda upgrade, got things rolling.

The Spaniard, who on Thursday confirmed that he intends to remain with the struggling outfit and see out his contract to 2017, has already used nine engines and will be on his 10th this weekend.

The rain then set in for the afternoon, with Massa splashing around in a best time of 2:00.458.

"Not a great day for the fans who came here to watch us," said Rosberg.

Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who will leave Lotus for the new American-owned Haas team next year, was equally succinct.

"Boring," he said. "The rain came just before that session so we did a team 'selfie' and we discussed the track... it was too wet and there was no point in running."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX

Practice 3 & qualifying

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Massa sets pace in Sochi'. Print Edition | Subscribe