Fernando Alonso sent the Spanish F1 fans home happy at the end of the opening day of the European Grand Prix meeting, after usurping his Red Bull rivals to post the fastest time in both second practice and overall.
As the track cleaned up, the times began to fall, and it didn't take long before the frontrunners were dipping below the 1min 40secs target set by Mark Webber in the morning session. Red Bull, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren all saw their drivers flirting with top spot before Alonso cemented his position in P1 with a lap of 1min 37.968secs, the only man to break the 1min 38secs barrier on the day.
The gap between first and second was nowhere near as vast as Webber had enjoyed over Vitaly Petrov before lunch, with Alonso hotly pursued by both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. The pair ended the day just a couple of tenths shy of the Ferrari, with Vettel particularly impressive again as he overcame a morning spent working on programmes for round nine at Silverstone to bounce back with a 1min 38.265secs best that left him just 0.297secs off Alonso, and 0.05secs behind Hamilton.
Behind the German, Michael Schumacher added Mercedes to the list of qualifying contenders ahead of Saturday, lapping a similar margin behind his countryman, and slotting in ahead of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button - who continued to complain of rear-end instability - and Webber, who improved his time without featuring the top of the order. Nico Rosberg ensured that both Mercedes featured in the top ten, while Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov did likewise for Renault as they maintained their strong form from the morning session.
Without the drama created by Nico Hulkenberg's accident earlier in the day, the order adapted a familiar feel, with Adrian Sutil claiming eleventh for Force India, ahead of Williams duo Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado. The second Force India of Paul di Resta was next up, in 14th, a performance that belied the fact that the Scottish F1 rookie only managed seven laps after waiting for his car to be rebuilt following its morning off. By contrast, those around di Resta could all look back on 30+ tours of the Valencia harbourside, with Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi (both Sauber), Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, and Marussia Virgin's Timo Glock rounding out the top 20.
The only driver not seen during the 90-minute session was Buemi's STR team-mate Jaime Alguersuari who, after posting the tenth best effort of FP1, was consigned to the pits by a mechanical gremlin on his machine. Jerome d'Ambrosio, Tonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan duly filled the spots ahead of the Spaniard on the final timesheet.