Webber leads Vettel in Australia first practice

Webber led for the first practice session of 2011

Webber led for the first practice session of 2011

The 2011 Formula 1 season started today, with a Red Bull 1-2 in Friday Practice 1 in Melbourne.

Sebastian Vettel had taken the lead early on in the session, before his team-mate Mark Webber took back the top spot with minutes to go. Despite splitting the Red Bulls earlier on, Fernando Alonso failed to get near to Vettel and Webber by the end, losing out by 0.9 seconds.

Nico Rosberg and Rubens Barrichello out-performed their team-mates to finish 4th and 5th. The McLarens of Button and Hamilton were 6th and 7th, 1.6 seconds off Webber. Michael Schumacher led Kamui Kobayashi, whose Sauber lost a section of its engine cover late in FP1.

Felipe Massa was one of many drivers having off-track moments, struggled for raw pace and ended up 11th. Pastor Maldonado finished his first official session 15th, ahead of Toro Rosso’s test driver Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg also drove for Force India, but languished in 18th.

Karun Chandhok suffered a disastrous return to the F1 track, as he crashed his Lotus 3 corners in to his first installation lap. The car snapped right on cold tyres, and hit the wall. Karun has since admitted the crash was his fault:

"I’m obviously disappointed to have had such a short run for my first time in the
Team Lotus car, but I put my hands up to it and totally accept it was a combination
of a slippery track and less grip than I expected from the tyres that combined to
put me out so early.

I’m just pleased the guys could get Jarno out in the afternoon session and it shows
what a great team this is that they could get the car fixed that quickly to ensure
Jarno could get a decent number of laps under his belt in FP2."

Virgin Racing were another team to have a horrible first outing for 2011. Both Glock and D'Ambrosio were miles off the pace, and 2.3 seconds off the 107% rule, meaning that both drivers are at huge risk of not qualifying tomorrow.

At least they got 32 laps under their belt. Less can be said for HRT, who spent the entire session in the garage, with both F111 cars still being assembled.

Despite much speculation over the winter, Sebastian Vettel has downplayed the impact of the Pirelli tyres, stating that they are wearing less than they expected:

"I think we expected worse conditions here in terms of how long the tyres last.
I think this morning and this afternoon was quite useful and helped us understand
what to do in the race on Sunday. So far I think it is positive.

Still we cannot race with one stop only. I think we have to come in a couple of
times so ultimately we will find out on Sunday if the track improves or not as
it is also something we have seen in the test."

Times from Australia FP1:

Pos  Driver         Team                   Time       Gap    Laps
 1.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault       1.26.831          20
 2.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault       1.27.158   0.327  19
 3.  Alonso         Ferrari                1.27.749   0.918  20
 4.  Rosberg        Mercedes               1.28.152   1.321  16
 5.  Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth      1.28.430   1.599  24
 6.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1.28.440   1.609  29
 7.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes       1.28.483   1.652  26
 8.  Schumacher     Mercedes               1.28.690   1.859  14
 9.  Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari         1.28.725   1.894  13
10.  Petrov         Renault                1.28.765   1.930  15
11.  Massa          Ferrari                1.28.842   2.011  20
12.  Heidfeld       Renault                1.28.928   2.097  14
13.  Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1.29.314   2.483  19
14.  Buemi          Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1.29.328   2.497  21
15.  Maldonado      Williams-Cosworth      1.29.403   2.572  24
16.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1.29.468   2.637  23
17.  Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1.29.643   2.812  18
18.  Hulkenberg     Force India-Mercedes   1.31.002   4.171  20
19.  Kovalainen     Lotus-Renault          1.32.428   5.597  13
20.  D'Ambrosio     Virgin-Cosworth        1.35.282   8.451  17
21.  Glock          Virgin-Cosworth        1.35.289   8.458  15
22.  Chandhok       Lotus-Renault          N/A               1
23.  Liuzzi         HRT-Cosworth           N/A
24.  Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           N/A
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