Lewis Hamilton pipped Sebastian Vettel
to the honour of being fastest in the first ever F1 practice session on Indian soil, with a late flying lap knocking the world champion out of P1 as the chequered flag waved.
Although the Briton was later summoned to see the stewards for apparently ignoring yellow flags flying over Pastor Maldonado's stranded Williams, his lap of 1min 26.836secs set the early benchmark for performances on a very dusty Buddh International Circuit, beating Vettel's previous best by more than half a second as McLaren
and Red Bull
vied for supremacy in the 90-minute session.
Neither team was too interested in setting the pace early on, allowing the lesser lights to clean the spectacular new circuit, and it fell to local favourites Force India
and Karun Chandhok to christen the dusty tarmac. Although Vijay Mallya's cars were the first out of the pit-lane, Chandhok ensured that Lotus would be credited with the first flying lap of the facility, and was quickly joined at the top of the timesheets by fellow countryman Narain Karthikeyan as the Indian contingent did their best to engender support. The only worrying moment came as a stray dog found its way onto the track, forcing a red flag with just five minutes on the clock.
The big guns appeared just over a third of the way into the session, with Jaime Alguersuari's fastest time only standing until Jenson Button
- the first of the six expected frontrunners to go for a serious lap - toppled the Toro Rosso
driver from his perch. Thereafter, the Briton, McLaren
team-mate Hamilton and Red Bull
duo Vettel and Mark Webber
swapped P1 between themselves, with the German looking set to take top spot until Hamilton dug deep on his last lap.
The Briton's effort proved to be 0.580secs faster than everyone else, with Vettel and Webber - split by just 0.012secs - ending the morning a full second ahead of Button, with McLaren
duo Michael Schumacher - who also took a turn in P1 - and Nico Rosberg
close behind the Briton. Felipe Massa
honour in seventh, despite the team opting to change his nose towards the end, after double world champion Fernando Alonso
ground to a halt on the inside of turn ten. The Spaniard had completed just four flying laps to that point, and will have some serious catching up to do in the afternoon session with the likes of Hamilton, Vettel and Button racking up 23 or 23 tours, and Webber completing 27.
Adrian Sutil ensured that India had a representative in the top ten, ending the session ahead of Sebastien Buemi
and Kamui Kobayashi, with Paul di Resta, Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna proving evenly matched just behind them. Alguersuari wound up 16th after crashing late on, while Maldonado was just one place further back after losing his Cosworth engine in spectacular fashion during the closing stages. The chicane at turn five proved especially tricky in the conditions, with several drivers taking to the grass infield, including Vettel, Massa, Sutil and Sergio Perez, although none terminally.
Chandhok, for the record, ended the session in 19th spot, one behind Team Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli
- replete with Marco Simoncelli replica helmet in recognition of the late MotoGP star - and ahead of the Virgin and HRT runners.