Jenson Button showed that his recent qualifying struggles could be behind him by topping Saturday morning practice for the European Grand Prix.
The McLaren driver knocked Lotus's Romain Grosjean off the top spot by just under a tenth of a second during the flurry of soft tire qualifying simulations in the final minutes of the session. This suggests that he will be in the mix for pole position, although Sebastian Vettel, who ended the morning an unobtrusive 13th, justified his status as the man to beat by setting the fastest times of all in the first and second sectors before aborting his only flyer on softs later on.
After a quiet opening 10 minutes of the session, first Grosjean and then teammate Kimi Raikkonen topped the times, although it was Red Bull driver Vettel who set the best time of the medium-shod runs, posting a 1m38.434s just after the halfway point of the one-hour session.
During the medium runs, there were few incidents, although Pedro de la Rosa did spin his HRT after losing it under braking for the final corner.
Grosjean was the first to bolt on the soft tires after half an hour, jumping to the top of the times. His lap was good enough for second overall, with Raikkonen, who took advantage of an uncongested circuit to complete his qualifying simulation with 10 minutes to go, proving that Lotus will be strong this afternoon by lapping just a tenth slower.
Force India pairing Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta carried their impressive Friday form over by setting the fourth and fifth fastest times ahead of Sauber driver Sergio Perez.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was seventh fastest ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, while Pastor Maldonado, who showed strong pace relative to the rest on mediums, completed the top 10.
Several big names were in unfamiliar territory in the bottom half of the timesheets. Fernando Alonso ended up 12th after a big lock up at Turn 12 during his soft tire run that forced him to take to the run-off area, with Vettel one place behind him with a time set on mediums.
Nico Rosberg was down in 15th, but it was Red Bull driver Mark Webber who endured the worst session. He completed just four laps before a technical problem brought his morning to a close, meaning that he didn't get the chance to run on soft tires in preparation for qualifying.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.562 17
2. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m38.655s + 0.093 18
3. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m38.759s + 0.197 18
4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m38.819s + 0.257 17
5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.892s + 0.330 17
6. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.084s + 0.522 20
7. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m39.141s + 0.579 15
8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m39.178s + 0.616 17
9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m39.318s + 0.756 15
10. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m39.357s + 0.795 18
11. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.358s + 0.796 19
12. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.395s + 0.833 15
13. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m39.434s + 0.872 13
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m39.543s + 0.981 13
15. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m39.946s + 1.384 20
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.037s + 1.475 17
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.134s + 1.572 20
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m40.681s + 2.119 15
19. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m41.282s + 2.720 4
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m41.931s + 3.369 15
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m42.758s + 4.196 14
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m42.815s + 4.253 16
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m42.943s + 4.381 14
24. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m43.124s + 4.562 16
All Timing Unofficial