Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel set the early pace during the first official session of the 2013 Formula 1 world championship season, as he topped the timing screens at the end of first free practice of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, at Albert Park in Melbourne.
The German confirmed the worst kept secret – that the RB9 is a handy piece of kit – as he powered around the temporary street circuit in a time of 1:27.211.
Showing impressive pace early on were both Ferrari drivers with Felipe Massa ending the 90 minutes session second quickest but only 0.078 off the top time, with Fernando Alonso third quickest albeit 0.336 down on Vettel’s best.
Fourth quickest was Lewis Hamilton in his first ever FP1 session with Mercedes, ahead of local hero Mark Webber in the Red Bull who was fifth fastest.
Kimi Raikkonen was sixth on the timing screens, in the Lotus E21, when the chequered flag dropped.
Nico Rosberg was seventh in the other Mercedes, ahead of Adrian Sutil who was making his comeback with Force India after a year on the sidelines.
Rewind to same time, same place last year and McLaren’s Jenson Button topped FP1 in Melbourne. This time around the 2009 world champion was ninth on the timing sheets, 1.229 seconds down on pacet. The team’s Mexican new boy Sergio Perez was 11th.
Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten in the Lotus.
Valtteri Bottas was fastest of the five rookies, as he probably will be all season long as the Williams is vastly superior to the Marussia and Caterham where the other rookies are toiling away four to five seconds off the pace.
At the backend of proceedings Jules Bianchi impressed by ending his first ever FP1 session one second faster than teammate Max Chilton.
Reflecting on the session it is quite clear that the Red Bull has good pace, but at the same time Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus appear very close, but McLaren could well be in trouble as was suspected after testing in Spain – but it is still early days and qualifying on Saturday will provide the true pecking order… at least for now.
Free Practice 1 Results, Melbourne – Friday, 15 March 2013