FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton faces a real fight to claim pole position for the 2012 European Grand Prix in qualifying around the Valencia street circuit in Spain.
The 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star from Hertfordshire struggled in free practice around the Spanish track today (Friday). He was only eighth fastest in first practice after clocking a lap time of 1m 41.158s.
Hamilton, winner of the 2012 Canadian GP in Montreal, was 14th on the timesheets in P2 after recording a 1m 40.147s.
The McLaren racer will need to improve on Saturday to challenge for a front-row start after qualifying in Spain.
“We didn’t have a brilliant day today – it was a bit of a struggle to be honest – but I’m quite confident that we can make changes overnight and get back into the hunt tomorrow [Saturday],” said Hamilton.
“I wasn’t totally happy with my car today, but, being realistic, you can’t always get it absolutely right, can you?
“This year, we’ve usually got the balance spot-on during practice, but we perhaps didn’t run precisely the correct set-up today.
“We think we know what the problems were though, and how to put them right, so we ought to be fine for tomorrow.”
Hamilton added: “I’m quite confident that we’ll have improved things for qualifying.”
McLaren teammate Jenson Button was fourth fastest in P1 and then 12th best after lunch in Valencia.
“The car didn’t feel too bad today: we struggled a little with front locking, and the lap-time isn’t quite there yet, but we’ve made some changes that should start to improve that tomorrow,” said Button after second practice.
“We did a lot of work to improve the front [wheel] locking, but we’re also going to go back on a few changes in order to get a car set-up that we know feels reasonably good.
“There are a couple of other changes we’re also considering for tomorrow [Saturday] which could be quite interesting.”
He added: “I think we’re quicker over a single lap than the time-sheets suggest, but the car is still a little tricky to drive on Option tyres.
“I’m confident that the changes we’re now making will make a difference – but whether that will be enough to challenge at the front is still an unknown, because the field is so extremely competitive right now.”
Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, admitted it wasn’t the best of starts to the weekend.
“Today was a challenging day, at the end of whose second free practice session the top 15 cars were covered by less than a second,” said Whitmarsh.
“That statistic clearly underlines just how close the cars are this season – but, even so, we’d be a bit happier if we’d ended the day a little closer to the front.
“The unexpectedly gusty winds presented further problems, and made development more difficult, especially as tomorrow and on Sunday it’s likely that the weather will revert to the hot conditions we saw here yesterday.
“So, now, we’ve got a lot of data to process, and this evening we’ll be crunching that data with a view to optimising our cars’ performance and balance on this tricky street circuit for qualifying and the race.”
The 2012 European Grand Prix starts at 1pm BST on Sunday.