Alonso fastest for Ferrari in Valencia

Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso raised the hopes of his home fans with the fastest lap in free practice for the European Grand Prix on Friday.

Valencia: Ferrari`s Fernando Alonso raised the hopes of his home fans with the fastest lap in free practice for the European Grand Prix on Friday.

The Spaniard, chasing his first win of a tough season dominated by Formula One champions Red Bull, lapped the Valencia street circuit with a best time of one minute 37.968 seconds.

His former McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton was second fastest on a track where he has finished runner-up for the past three years.

"The track characteristics are well suited to our car but it is too early to say where we are compared to the others," said Alonso.

"In the past we have gone well on the first day only to see ourselves losing out by a second in qualifying, therefore I don`t even want to consider today`s time sheet."

Red Bull`s world champion Sebastian Vettel was third on the timing screens after a muted morning session in which he was only 16th.

"Sometimes you try different things, which is normal on a Friday," he said. "There were no secrets from us today. This morning we were running a different programme but this afternoon we were on the same page as the others."

The 23-year-old German won in Valencia last year from pole and has triumphed in five of the seven races so far this season with Red Bull starting all on pole.

However the governing FIA has tightened the rules since the last race, banning teams from modifying the engine electronics between qualifying and the race.

Vettel`s Australian team mate Mark Webber was the man setting the pace before lunch at a track where last year he made headlines with a spectacular airborne crash.

Webber, seventh in the afternoon, had been top on an overcast and humid morning with a time of 1:40.403 seconds -- 0.824 ahead of Russian Vitaly Petrov in the Renault and Alonso.

The Australian was lucky to walk away unscathed from last year`s crash, when his car rose almost vertically into the air after ramming into the back of Heikki Kovalainen`s Lotus before crashing upside down and rolling.

"It was a nasty one, we know that," he had said on his return. "The next race weekend, I did okay so I think I have done a bit of racing since then."

Hamilton had been fourth in the first session with team mate Jenson Button -- second overall but 60 points behind Vettel - in seventh place. Button moved up to sixth in the afternoon.

"There are still plenty of improvements we can make to the car," said Hamilton. "We need to work on the balance. It`s not a million miles away, but it could be better.”

"It looks very tight up at the front but we`re definitely in the fight, which is the important thing. I think we`ve got some more pace up our sleeves for the rest of the weekend, too."

Force India`s reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg hit the wall after 22 minutes of the first practice and the accident reduced the amount of time available to Paul di Resta in the afternoon as mechanics hurriedly repaired the car.

The Scot finally went out on track with 11 minutes remaining of the day and did seven laps with the 14th best time, only a fraction slower than team mate Adrian Sutil.

There was also disappointment for Indian Karun Chandhok, making a Friday appearance for Team Lotus in his reserve role.

"I just went out of the pit lane and I had no second gear so I just cruised round. I`m not having much luck with this Friday driving," he told the BBC.

"I think I`ve done two timed laps in three Friday sessions. Sadly, I think that`s the end of the session for me. I should be back in the car at Silverstone, my adopted home grand prix."

Mexican rookie Sergio Perez, who missed the last two races after his heavy crash in Monaco qualifying, completed both sessions with none of the dizziness that ruled him out in Montreal.

"More than anything I`m happy to be back in the car," he said. "Everything went okay, I feel well and I have done a lot of work over the last weeks to get there. I picked up speed quite quickly and this is good."

Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari was sidelined for the second session by a mechanical problem.

Bureau Report

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