BARCELONA: McLaren's Jenson Button set the pace in Spanish Grand Prix practice yesterday with half the field separated by little more than a second. With the frontrunners all trying out new developments on a hot and sunny day, the 2009 world champion lapped the Circuit de Catalunya with a best time of one minute 23.399 seconds set on the soft Pirelli tyres.
The top 10 cars were all within a second and 12th-placed Mexican Sergio Perez, in a Sauber, lapped only 1.023 off Button's best.
Red Bull's double world champion and overall leader Sebastian Vettel was second in both sessions.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who gave his home fans what they wanted to see with the top time of 1:24.430 in the morning, was 14th after lunch. Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa was 11th.
Alonso is looking for big improvements in his car after tests in Italy last week ahead of the first European race of the Formula One season.
Ferrari have struggled to keep up with champions Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes despite Alonso's win against the odds in a rain-hit Malaysian race in March and the Spaniard is now fifth overall.
So open is the championship, with four different winners in four races, that the Ferrari driver is still only 10 points behind Vettel, however.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, winner in China in April, was third fastest in the afternoon with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton fourth. Lotus team mates Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were fifth and sixth.
Indian Narain Karthikeyan failed to set a lap time in the HRT after stopping on track in the afternoon while Australian Mark Webber went through the gravel in his Red Bull and was seventh fastest.
Webber has been on pole at the last two Spanish Grands Prix, winning in 2010.
The day had got off to a low-key start with little track action and Alonso keeping his fans waiting for more than an hour before he set a serious time.
Vettel, winner of the previous race in Bahrain, had been quickest until then.
While Ferrari assessed their upgraded car, McLaren were trying out a new raised nose after their strong start to the season tailed off. Button was fourth fastest before lunch.
Williams test driver Valtteri Bottas impressed with the fifth best time in the morning after taking Brazilian Bruno Senna's place for the session.
French reserve Jules Bianchi took Paul Di Resta's Force India for the morning while American Alexander Rossi made his Caterham debut and Spaniard Dani Clos replaced Karthikeyan.
The arrival of Clos on track will go down as a footnote in Formula One history as the first time a Spanish team had run two Spanish drivers at a Spanish Grand Prix.
Rossi was the first American driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend since Scott Speed left Toro Rosso in 2007.