Mark Webber has delighted his home fans by heading the timesheets at the end of the first free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix.
Webber’s quickest time, a 1:26.831, was posted on the hard Pirelli ‘prime’ tyre compound on his very last lap of the session, while his German team-mate found up 0.327 seconds slower after a late bid to take the top spot on the timesheets. Vettel finished the session second-fastest overall.
And while would be unwise to then suggest that Red Bull is undoubtedly the team to beat based on a single practice session, the margin by which Webber and Vettel were quicker than their rivals has certainly lent that argument some support.
Overnight hadn’t had any impact on the track being able to dry in time for the opening practice session, which – in accordance with this being a twilight race – began in the early afternoon at 12:30pm local time. Conditions remained dry throughout the session, with an ambient temperature of 17°C (63°F) and a 22°C (72°F) track temperature.
The session saw three reserve drivers in action, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo taking over the Toro Rosso seat in place of Jaime Alguersuari, Nico Hülkenberg sitting in the Force India cockpit in place of Paul di Resta, and Karun Chandhok driving the Lotus in place of Jarno Trulli.
But despite being the first man on track when the session started, Chandhok’s maiden outing in the T128 lasted all of a few hundred metres before he lost the rear of the car exiting Turn 3, spinning towards the inside wall, which met with his nosecone. The Indian driver was out on the spot and took no further part in the session.
Another to not complete any mileage was Chandhok’s former employer, Hispania Racing, which pulled a late-night shift for its mechanics but has still not managed to have either of its new F111 cars assembled for Narain Karthikeyan or Vitantonio Liuzzi to try. The team has stated its intention to run the new cars in the second practice session later this afternoon.
To the front of the field, however, and Fernando Alonso finished up third fastest in his Ferrari, although almost a second slower than the benchmark time set by Webber.
Nico Rosberg finished fourth-fastest, while Rubens Barrichello was working hard to brush off any remaining jetlag to finish fifth-fastest for Williams.
Featuring higher up the timesheets than many had perhaps expected was the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who showed decent pace in the updated MP4-26, which sported more simplified components – including its exhaust configuration – after a poor showing in pre-season testing.
Michael Schumacher finished eighth-quickest at the end of the session with a best lap that was half-a-second slower than team-mate Rosberg.
Completing the top ten was Kamui Kobayashi – whose Sauber shed part of its engine cover – and Vitaly Petrov.
There may be some concern at the bottom of the timesheets, with the Virgin pairing of Timo Glock and Jérôme d’Ambrosio lapping over 8 seconds a lap off the pace – this speed will need to significantly improve if they are to have a hope of making the grid for Sunday’s race.
Several drivers suffered tyre lock-ups and a few – including Webber and Felipe Massa – had off-track moments, although none of the severity of what Chandhok had managed earlier in the session.
The second practice session will start at 4:30pm local time.
2011 Australian Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:
|1.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Renault RB7||1:26.831||20|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Renault RB7||+ 0.327||19|
|3.||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 0.918||20|
|4.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP W02||+ 1.321||16|
|5.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 1.599||24|
|6.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 1.609||29|
|7.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||+ 1.652||26|
|8.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP W02||+ 1.859||14|
|9.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 1.894||13|
|10.||Vitaly Petrov||Renault R31||+ 1.930||15|
|11.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari F150° Italia||+ 2.011||20|
|12.||Nick Heidfeld||Renault R31||+ 2.097||14|
|13.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 2.483||19|
|14.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.497||21|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth FW33||+ 2.572||24|
|16.||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso Ferrari STR6||+ 2.637||23|
|17.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C30||+ 2.812||18|
|18.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM04||+ 4.171||20|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus Renault T128||+ 5.597||13|
|20.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 8.451||17|
|21.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth MVR-02||+ 8.458||15|
|22.||Karun Chandhok||Lotus Renault T128||no time||1|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||no time||0|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Cosworth F111||no time||0|