There were ominous signs for the F1 paddock as Sebastian Vettel led a Red Bull Racing 1-2 in the second free practice session of the 2013 season.
With the track cleaning up throughout the second 90-minute session of the day, times tumbled for everyone except Giedo van der Garde, the Caterham rookie left to rely on his opening session gambit of 1min 32.388secs after a suspected mechanical problem left him sailing into the gravel early on. For some, including Vettel, the gains could be measured in whole seconds, while others had to be content with chipping the odd tenth or two from their personal benchmarks.
The world champion eventually left the target at 1min 25.908secs, an improvement of 1.3secs despite allegedly running without KERS and on tyres past their best, and enjoyed a bigger margin over the rest of the field as team-mate Mark Webber could manage 'only' 1min 26.172secs in the sister RB9, having survived a lurid spin midway through the session. The Australian's 1.5secs improvement put him ahead of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, although the German was denied a chance to improve late on after being advised to park up when a suspected gearbox gremlin showed up on the team's telemetry.
What promised to be a strong showing from the Three Pointed Star had already been dented when Lewis Hamilton skated off into the barriers just minutes before the call to Rosberg. Again, a mechanical problem was thought to be to blame for the Briton's early exit, but Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff insisted later that both issues were 'minor'.
Lotus continued to live up to its pre-season billing with both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean pushing their E21s into the top five. The Finn came close to deposing Rosberg, and was just over a tenth off Webber's pace, with Grosjean a couple more further back. Hamilton was seventh in his Mercedes, but saw Fernando Alonso remain ahead of him, the Spaniard posting a 1min 26.748secs best in the quicker of the two Ferraris.
Felipe Massa had held that honour in the opening session, but had to be content with eighth overall at the end of the day, comfortably ahead of Adrian Sutil (Force India) and Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), who rounded out the top ten.
Whatever the problems at Mercedes, Hamilton's mood would no doubt have been lightened by the sight of neither McLaren making the leading group. Although the extent of bad blood between the Briton and his former employer has been overplayed in some sections of the media, knowing that he has moved to what appears to be a better prospect for 2013 will be pleasing as Jenson Button and Sergio Perez languish in eleventh and 13th spots respectively, separated by the second Force India of Paul di Resta, who showed no ill effects of his first session off.
Perez's time was almost matched by Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso, as the second Australian in the field pushed himself to the head of the group containing Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez, STR team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne and the Williams pairing of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas.
Marussia new boy Jules Bianchi showed signs of threatening to join the quintet after posting a 1min 29.696secs best to sit just half a second from Bottas and comfortably ahead of the rest of the Caterham-Marussia battle propped up by the hapless van der Garde.