McLaren practices its pit stops ahead of the first free practice session at the Australian Grand Prix

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have led a McLaren 1-2 at the end of the first free practice session of the 2012 Formula 1 season. The 2009 World Champion clocked his fastest lap-time in the closing minutes of the session at Albert Park, which started wet, before gradually drying as it wore on.

Mark Webber finished the session in the top-five, and as the quickest Red Bull runnerThe circuit opened for business at 12:30pm local time with showers having hit the area around half an hour before the 90-minute session was set to kick off.

Local driver Daniel Ricciardo was the first to emerge from pit lane as (for once) Carterham opted not to be the first drivers to sample the slippery track surface.

With track conditions far from ideal, it was almost half an hour into the session before the first timed laps were clocked, with Ricciardo and team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne trading fastest laps early on, although much slower than what would land up being the quickest efforts of the day.

It was a session generally free from major incidents, although Vergne was on driver who struck trouble, having a quick spin before rejoining without suffering any significant damage.

The major moment came for Felipe Massa, who threw his Ferrari into the kitty litter in the final half-hour. The Brazilian dropped two wheels onto the damp grass under braking for Turn 9, and the car promptly swapped ends before he was buried in the gravel. His feeble excuses that his mishap was down to a mechanical issue – and not driver error – were laughable indeed.

Up at the front, the contenders steadily switched over the Pirelli’s ‘medium’ compound as the track surface started to dry, and

F1 returnee Kimi Räikkönen spent most of the session in the pit garages after his Lotus F1 team elected to change his steering rack after his installation lap. He eventually got going in the final fifteen minutes, clocking the ninth-fastest time.

Button and Hamilton would eventually overhaul Michael Schumacher for top honours in the session, with the German heading Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in the top-five places on the timesheets.

Nico Rosberg ended the day sixth-fastest in the sister Mercedes, ahead of Ricciardo, Pastor Maldonado in the Williams, Räikkönen and Kamui Kobayashi.

Defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel finished eleventh-quickest.

Not surprisingly, the Marussia and HRTF1 outfits brought up the rear in their little-tested challengers, although only Marussia was able to post any lap times. Timo Glock and rookie Charles Pic finished well off the pace, while Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT ground to a halt when an oil sensor indicated high engine temperatures.

At least he got out of the pit-lane, which is more than could be said for Pedro de la Rosa, who remained confined to the garage while the sister F112 was being pieced together. At this stage, it seems little has changed for the Spanish team from a year before…

One final note: kudos to Formula One Management for providing TV viewers with some new camera angles. Mark Webber had a helmet camera installed (not good for those prone to motion sickness!), while Jenson Button’s car had a rearward-facing camera fitted just under the suspension mountings – this gave great shots of the undertray skimming above the track surface. It would be interesting to see this camera in operation at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

2012 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:27.560   11
2. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:27.805 + 0.245 14
3. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:28.235 + 0.675 17
4. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:28.360 + 0.800 21
5. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:28.467 + 0.907 21
6. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:28.683 + 1.123 22
7. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:28.908 + 1.348 23
8. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:29.415 + 1.855 16
9. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:29.565 + 2.005 8
10. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:29.722 + 2.162 26
11. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:29.790 + 2.230 21
12. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:29.865 + 2.305 17
13. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:29.881 + 2.321 18
14. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 1:29.953 + 2.393 21
15. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:30.124 + 2.564 22
16. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:30.515 + 2.955 16
17. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:30.586 + 3.026 16
18. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:30.743 + 3.183 11
19. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:31.178 + 3.618 16
20. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:31.983 + 4.423 8
21. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:34.730 + 7.170 8
22. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:40.256 + 12.696 11
23. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 no time   3
24. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 no time   0

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.