Massa fastest as Hamilton’s woe deepens

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa upset the form books with the quickest practice drive on Friday as Lewis Hamilton suffered yet another setback on Formula One’s first ever day of action in India.

Massa conquered Buddh International Circuit’s dusty new track with a time of 1minute and 25.706 seconds, beating recently crowned world champion Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso in an incident-packed opening day.

Hamilton was fourth in the second session but his miserable season had already taken another turn for the worse when he was hit by a three-place grid penalty for ignoring a safety flag in Friday’s morning run.

The 2008 champion for McLaren, who is fifth in the overall standings and recently split from his Pussycat Dolls girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, started the day brightly when he was fastest in the first session.

But Hamilton will be unable to start from the front row in Sunday’s race after his sanction for ignoring yellow flags warning him that marshals were close to the track.

Sauber’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez received an identical penalty for ignoring flags at the same turn.

The Buddh course claimed a number of victims on its opening day including Virgin’s Jerome d’Ambrosio, whose right rear wheel was ripped off after he slid out and crashed into a barrier.

Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was forced out of the opening session when his car started pluming smoke, and his second run wound up in a gravel trap after he lost control of his rear end.

The morning session was also briefly halted when a stray dog ran onto the track, among a series of minor glitches including power cuts and a bat trapped in the media centre.

Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was fifth fastest in the afternoon session as he vies for second spot in the season standings with McLaren’s Jenson Button, who was just behind him in sixth. — AFP

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