The first day of practice for the 2013 Australian Grand Prix is now in the books. Although it won’t be definitively known until qualifying on Saturday afternoon what the 2013 cars and drivers can do in anger, there were some notable early indications.
Red Bull looks to be picking up where it left off at the end of 2012. Sebastian Vettel in the RB9 (nicknamed Hungry Heidi by Vettel) dominated the timesheets in both Friday free practice sessions on the Albert Park circuit. “Overall it was a good day for us. It was pretty seamless and there was no trouble with the car,” Vettel said in a post-practice interview reported on Formula1.com. Teammate Mark Webber also looked solid with times that placed him fifth and second in the two sessions.
Ferrari appears to be in a much better position than this time last year when problems with their newly redesigned pull-rod suspension haunted the Italian team. Today, there were no nagging suspension maladies evident on the F138 at this very early stage. Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso looked strong in Practice 1 (P1) placing second and third respectively on the timesheets before settling for top 10 placement in Practice 2 (P2).
Lotus also had a good day as both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean put their E21s in the top 10 in P1 and fourth and fifth respectively in P2 without any signs of the reliability problems that were reported during winter testing.
Both Mercedes F1 W04s, although achieving times that put them in the top seven in both sessions, were stopped on track by the end of P2. According to team boss Ross Brawn, Lewis Hamilton ended up off track due to earlier damage to the floor of the car while teammate Nico Rosberg pulled off and parked with a gearbox problem just a few seconds thereafter.
McLaren appeared to struggle the first day of practice as Jenson Button barely managed to crack the top 10 in P1. Perez was also off the pace with times placing him at 11th and 13th McLaren decided this year to go with a Ferrari-like pull-rod suspension redesign on the MP4-28 and initial bugs may have prevented a better practice showing.
Also of note, Adrian Sutil, in his first practice session after a year away from F1, topped Force India teammate Paul di Resta on the timesheets, placing eight in both sessions.
As expected, no rookies on the first day were able to crack the top 10 on the timesheets.
Concerns regarding performance of the new Pirelli dry-weather compounds appeared to be unfounded. Tires were reportedly performing well on the first day at Australia without excessive degradation. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery, who tried to quell teams’ concerns about tire degradation after winter testing by stating that cold ambient temperatures in Spain were the cause, expressed confidence that the new tires are performing as designed in the warmer temperatures of Melbourne’s fall season.
Other items of note:
This season, team cars will be identified by a black-colored T-bar (instead of the previous red color) and the familiar yellow-colored T-bar mounted atop the car’s airbox.
Two Drag Reduction System (DRS) zones are designated for the Australian Grand Prix, one zone on the front straight and the second between turns 2 and 3 of the 3.3 mile, 16-turn Albert Park street circuit.
Weather forecasts are calling for a chance of afternoon rain showers Saturday in Melbourne, which may affect qualifying.