McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button set the best times in a fragmented Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix as red flags disrupted the first session and rain the second.
But it’s likely that – as in the first race at Bahrain – the first day of practice is a poor guide to race performance because of the number of different strategies teams need to try out, from fast qualifying laps to long fuel-heavy run.
Certainly McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh was cautious with his optimism: “We’re not about to get carried away by Jenson’s and Lewis’s positions on today’s timesheet, although of course it’s always gratifying to see your two drivers finish first and second on any day in any conditions.
“Having said that, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be more competitive here in Australia than we were in Bahrain.”
Ferrari, which scored a 1-2 finish in Bahrain, did not trouble the top of the time-sheets but are expected to crank up their efforts as the weekend continues.
The team’s Australian-born chief track engineer Chris Dyer said: “We did not manage to get through everything we wanted to do, but all the same, we were able to acquire enough information on the handling of the car and the tyres.”
The new teams struggled across the two sessions, Lotus suffering mechanical issues and spins in the first and Hispania not running in the second, while Virgin suffered reliability problems throughout the day.
The first practice session turned into a battle between Renault’s Robert Kubica and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, with Button also setting some of the top times but ultimately being bumped down to third ahead of Hamilton.
The session was red-flagged twice for incidents involving Sauber’s Kamui Kobyashi. In the first he ran over a cone protecting a kerb, breaking off half his front wing. When the session resumed he was sent out on track with a replacement wing – but this snapped off the moment he got back up to speed.
There was controversy during one of the red flag periods as Michael Schumacher completed a fast lap while they were in operation, apparently ignoring them. Red Bull’s Christian Horner tersely suggested to the BBC that he should receive a grid penalty for it, but no action was taken.
Rain prevented any consistent running during this session, reducing the cars to 10 or 15-minute windows during which running was possible, and the McLaren pair of Hamilton and Button soon knocked off the early time set by Rosberg.
Their times held up to challenges from Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, while Sebastian Vettel span during what was looking like a competitive lap.
Di Resta makes his debut
In the first session Force India reserve driver Paul di Resta replaced race driver Adrian Sutil for his first Grand Prix outing with the team.
He posted the 11th-fastest time from a field of 24, just over three-tenths of a second behind team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi, and had the satisfying experience of setting a faster time than Michael Schumacher – although practice times are of course not really open to straightforward comparisons of this kind.
After the session, he told Autosport: “The first impression of the car is always good and also Melbourne is not the easiest track to go out in your first attempt at it. There is not much room for error and the basic approach was to start at the bottom and work my way up.
“The last lap was the fastest lap. It was quite a short run at the end and if we could have got some more laps in, we would have gone a bit better again.
“The session had quite a few red flags, which interrupted some of our running programme, but equally on the second run we were able to make some changes and start the development work for this weekend and go forward with the race car for the guys to take over.”
He said the plan was for him to continue in the car as much as possible, although not at every grand prix, and that his biggest challenge would be getting used to the new tracks and the open-wheel set-up.
Practice times session two
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:25.801
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 1:26.076
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:26.248
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 1:26.511
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 1:26.732
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:26.832
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:26.834
- Vitantonio Liuzzi: Force India: 1:26.835
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1:26.904
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 1:26.956
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:27.108
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: 1:27.108
- Kamui Kobayashi: BMW Sauber: 1:27.455
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1:27.545
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:29.025
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:29.134
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:29.591
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus F1: 1:29.860
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:30.510
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus F1: 1:30.695
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1:32.117
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: no time
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: no time
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: no time
Practice times session one
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:26.927
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 1:27.126
- Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes: 1:27.482
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:27.511
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:27.686
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:27.747
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:27.793
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:28.014
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 1:28.114
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:28.192
- Paul Di Resta, Force India: 1:28.537
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 1:28.550
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:28.572
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:28.683
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: 1:29.465
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1:29.712
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1:30.249
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: 1:31.588
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus F1: 1:31.652
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus F1: 1:31.654
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: 1:32.831
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: 1:33.401
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: 1:34.251
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1:34.925