Mar.16 (PVM) McLaren signaled their intent by dominating the top of the timing screens at the end of the first free practice of the 2012 F1 world championship season at Albert Park in Melbourne, with Jenson Button fastest by a quarter of a second over team mate Lewis Hamilton.
The first session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend got underway on a very green track, not helped by morning rain which exacerbated the greasiness of the surface.
Behind the two McLaren’s was Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes AMG W03 who was at the sharp end of proceedings throughout the session, and was a tad quicker than Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari F2012 who finished the session fourth.
Next up was local hero Mark Webber who happened to exit the track at the same time as fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, which generated the loudest cheer of the morning from the packed stands.
Webber was fifth fastest, in the Red Bull RB8, ahead of Nico Rosberg in the other Silver Arrows sixth and Ricciardo seventh on the timing screens in the Toro Rosso STR7.
Worth pointing out is that both Mercedes drivers were as comfortable and fast in damp, slippery conditions as they were on a fully dry track. Ditto McLaren.
Pastor Maldonado finished the session eighth fastest in the Williams FW34 ahead of comeback champion Kimi Raikkonen.
After his install lap The Iceman was once again unhappy with his comfort zone in the Lotus E20, forcing the team to sort out a steering issue before he was sent out again. In eight laps he still managed to set the ninth best time – a second up on his team mate Romain Grosjean who notched up 16 laps in the 90 minutes.
Rounding out the top ten was Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber C31, with 26 laps on his board, the Japanese driver did more mileage than his rivals in the session.
Notably out of the top ten, were world champion Sebastian Vettel who was 11th quickest and Felipe Massa down in 18th.
Vettel seemed focused on using the session to test as opposed to setting any meaningful runs, while Massa got it wrong going in to Turn 9 – touching the grass while braking – he ended up in the beached in the gravel, session over for the Brazilian.
On the wrong side of the timing sheets, as expected, were the Marussia pair and the HRT duo. With no testing, both teams were inevitably on the back foot with the Marussia boys Timo Glock 21st and over seven seconds off the pace, rookie Charles Pic 12.6 seconds down on Button’s best.
It was a case of deja vu for HRT as once again they arrived in Australia woefully under-prepared. Neither Narain Karthikeyan and nor Pedro de la Rosa set a time, although the Indian driver did manage to circulate.
Embarrassment for both teams is eminent in Australia and perhaps all season long.
Reading too much into the first session, which in effect was an extension of testing, would reveal little – however it cannot be denied that McLaren and Mercedes have a good car with Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus yet to show their hand.
Free Practice 1 – Melbourne, 16 March 2012
|5||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:28.467||0.907||21|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:29.790||2.230||21|
|12||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:29.865||2.305||17|
|13||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:29.881||2.321||18|
|23||23||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT-Cosworth||No time||3|
|24||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||No time||0|