A closely contested FP2 in Valencia has got F1 fans dreaming of a genuinely competitive qualifying session at the Spanish circuit tomorrow, with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren all looking capable of snatching pole – and Mercedes lurking as the DRS-driven dark horses.

But it wasn’t quite so close in the morning run. Mark Webber paced the first session, enjoying strong early form at the Valencia circuit on which he suffered that monster shunt 12 months ago. The Aussie set a best of 1.40.597 in his Red Bull, ending up a whopping eight-tenths faster than the next quickest man.

That was Vitaly Petrov, the Russian showing impressive speed aboard his Renault. With team-mate Nick Heidfeld ending the session fifth it was an all-round promising morning for the Enstone-based team.

The Renaults sandwiched a pair of big name drivers in need of a strong result in Spain: Fernando Alonso, coming off the back of a costly DNF was third, with Lewis Hamilton – whose recent woes need no re-telling – fourth. Less than three-tenths covered positions two through five.

Felipe Massa was sixth fastest ahead of Canada winner Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil and Nico Rosberg. Meanwhile Sergio Perez came through the session in good health following his withdrawal in Montreal, ending up 14th fastest, whilst Nico Hulkenberg crashed at turn 12, ending his involvement. Lotus reserve driver Karun Chandhok also missed out on any meaningful running as a gearbox issue sidelined him early on.

Sebastian Vettel ended the morning way down in 16th spot, though the reigning champ was running the team’s Silverstone-focussed package rather than gunning for quick laps.

And it didn’t hamper his overall pace on the Valencia streets, as Vettel got right among the pace-setters in a closely fought FP2. Here Ferrari star Alonso was quickest, with Hamilton taking P2 and Vettel right behind them in third. The competitiveness at the top of the timesheets suggest the possibility of a genuinely exciting qualifying session tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Michael Schumacher was an encouraging fourth, the veteran German continuing his form from Canada, where he took a season-best P4 at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit. The Mercedes is believed to have one of the most effective DRS systems on the grid, a key element of a fast lap in Valencia

Massa, Button and Webber filled positions five through seven, with the Aussie  just half a second shy of fastest man Alonso – significantly less than his own advantage over P2 in the morning session. Rosberg was eighth ahead of the two Renaults, with Heidfeld and Petrov fading from their morning form to take ninth and tenth respectively.

Can Alonso or Hamilton end Red Bull’s monopoly on pole positions in 2011 tomorrow afternoon? The signs point to a battle for that coveted P1 on the grid.