In truth it was a rather odd session, with an earlier deluge soaking the track and ensuring that no one except Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was prepared to venture out on track in the first 35 minutes. However, the session concluded on a largely dry track with a flurry of machine gun-fast times and Alonso heading Hamilton and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
After Bottas had been out, Adrian Sutil bravely went out for Sauber on intermediate Pirellis, followed by Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne, and for a while there was an entertaining little scrap as they traded fast times. Then Fernando Alonso went quickest with 1m 36.038s. Kimi Raikkonen then set the fastest first sector time but his Ferrari immediately developed a problem and he crept back to the pits, never to venture out again.
Vettel then trimmed Alonso’s time to 1m 35.896s before being usurped by Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren on 1m 35.805s and then the Dane’s team mate Jenson Button on 1m 35.428s. Vettel went back ahead on 1m 33.780s as the track continued to dry out and intermediates remained the desirable wheel-wear. Magnussen hit back with 1m 33.562s, Vettel countered with 1m 32.588s, then Button banged in 1m 32.423s and improved that soon afterwards to 1m 31.594s.
By now there was only 25 minutes left, and 10 cars still had yet to even go out. As the Mercedes duo finally went out on intermediates to discover for themselves what state the track was in, Vergne slashed 5.5s off the ante with 1m 26.002s on Pirelli’s soft-compound slick. After that the rest of the field followed the Frenchman onto slicks and it was open season on fastest lap. Nico Hulkenberg was the first to try the supersoft rubber, and that set the trend.
The German’s first effort yielded the second fastest time in 1m 26.378s, but as the rubber warmed fully the times went into freefall. Sergio Perez in the second Force India did 1m 24.659s but was immediately supplanted by his team mate’s 1m 22.699s, and that was only the start.
Alonso swept to the top with 1m 22.047s, then 1m 19.498s as Hamilton jumped to second on 1m 20.019s. Going into their final efforts, Alonso beat the clock by 30 seconds, Hamilton by two, as they threaded through the traffic. In the end Alonso trimmed down to 1m 18.482s to stay fastest, as Hamilton slipped in 1m 18.901s.
Behind them, Vettel’s 1m 19.017s held up for third, but it tells you everything that Daniel Ricciardo’s 1m 19.779s, which put him third fastest at the time, ended up being good enough only for ninth, such was the rapid pace of others’ improvements.
Vergne continued his excellent FP1 form by taking fourth place with 1m 19.351s ahead of Bottas on 1m 19.421s, Perez and Hulkenberg on 1m 19.668s and 1m 19.712s, Button on 1m 19.721s and Ricciardo.
Magnussen completed the top 10 with 1m 20.230s, ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa on 1m 20.394s, Kvyat on 1m 20.622s and Sutil on 1m 20.811s. The Lotuses of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean sandwiched Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, with 1m 20.977s and 1m 21.700s to the Mexican’s 1m 21.467s.
Kamui Kobayashi put Caterham ahead of Marussia with a lap of 1m 21.924s to Jules Bianchi’s 1m 21.937s, but the Frenchman had been a star for much of the session and at one stage ran fifth before the wholesale improvements began.
The other Marussia of Max Chilton moved ahead of Marcus Ericsson, 1m 22.683s to 1m 23.164s, and the Swede (running a Ronnie Peterson-hued helmet design) provided the only real incident when he nosed his Caterham into the wall at Portier towards the end. They were separated by Nico Rosberg. The German managed 1m 22.862s and was on for a fast lap with green improvements in the first two sectors, but had to give way to a faster car in the third and never got a clear run thereafter.
Raikkonen ended up bottom of the pile, 27s down, after his mechanical woes.
What did it all mean? Only that such conditions make things a lottery. But while FP2 might have had a slow-burn beginning for the spectators, it made up for that in the final 20 minutes. Normal service will probably be resumed in FP3 on Saturday morning - but only if the weather stays dry…