Free practice for this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix has got underway at a soaking wet Istanbul Park Circuit, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso topping a session for the first time this season.

This morning’s running will be crucial should it continue to rain throughout the weekend, but with forecasts predicting dry weather for Saturday and Sunday FP1 could prove to be a largely meaningless affair in terms of setup. As such there was more to be lost than gained from the drivers point of view, and with one front-running contender damaging his car FP1 may prove to be a crucial moment in this grand prix weekend.

Force India’s Paul di Resta was the first man to brave the miserable conditions, the young Brit having undoubtedly driven through far worse weather at Larkhall kart circuit in his youth.

Running was largely limited to installation laps early on, with teams showing little desire to break their cars or use up their allocation of wet tyres. Fernando Alonso went fastest not long after the hour, though by this stage only eight drivers had completed a timed lap. The Spaniard would stay atop the timesheets for the remainder of the session, with the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher his closest competitors. Next up were the Renaults of Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov, with Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa completing the top eight.

However little can be read in to the results of FP1, with several key players – including both McLaren drivers – electing not to complete a timed lap.

Unsurprisingly there were spins for several drivers, from Virgin rookie to seven-time champion Schumacher in the Mercedes.

But it was the world championship leader who suffered the biggest – and perhaps most costly – accident of the session. Running on inters, Sebastian Vettel dropped his car exiting turn eight and slid across the track in to the barriers, badly damaging the right-hand side of his Red Bull. This prompted a red flag, costing the teams close to ten minutes of running. Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado also damaged his car in the dying moments of the session, continuing his team’s torrid start to 2011.

Vettel meanwhile was out of the session early, though no one will be discounting a driver of his ability armed with a team of Red Bull’s quality as the weekend progresses. That said it won’t help, either.

Three non-race drivers were also on track this morning: Karun Chandhok ran in the Lotus, taking the place of Heikki Kovalainen; Nico Hulkenberg deputised for Adrian Sutil at Force India; and Daniel Ricciardo was in Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso.

The weather is set to improve as we move in to FP2, which takes place at 2pm local time.