Australian GP practice times: Red Bull lead, McLaren stuck in the midfield

With the first two practice sessions for the 2013 F1 season out of the way, the order of the grid is becoming more clear. It is apparent that Red Bull haven’t lost much track over the winter, topping both FP1 and FP2, although Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes are showing interesting flashes of pace.

However, the big news is over at McLaren, who have suffered a shocking start to their 2013 campaign. Over 2 seconds slower by the end of second practice, team principal Martin Whitmarsh called it “one of the hardest days” he’d done in the team.

Let’s have a look at what happened this morning:

First practice

A traditionally slow start heralded the beginning of the 2013 season, as teams were hardly eager to start testing on a “green” surface. Daniel Ricciardo set the first proper lap with half an hour completed, which got the ball rolling nicely for the rest of the drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen led much of the early running, setting a 1:27.8 to comfortably move ahead at the front.

As the frontline teams moved out of the garage, it became clear that Mercedes had made progress over the winter, with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg setting threatening times. The Ferraris were showing decent pace, with both drivers lapping at the top on the medium tyres.

When Sebastian Vettel left the pits, he made an impact within several laps, going fastest at only his second attempt. Felipe Massa tried to re-take the top spot soon after, but a mistake at Turn 5 – like many other drivers on Friday – put an end to that.

Mark Webber was unable to do as well as his teammate, reporting unusually high rear tyre wear towards the end of the session.


Pos. Driver               Team                  Time       Gap      Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:27.211            16
 2.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:27.289  + 0.078s  17
 3.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:27.547  + 0.336s  16
 4.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:27.552  + 0.341s  18
 5.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:27.668  + 0.457s  18
 6.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:27.877  + 0.666s  17
 7.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:28.013  + 0.802s  17
 8.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:28.426  + 1.215s  19
 9.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.440  + 1.229s  19
10.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:28.520  + 1.309s  15
11.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.597  + 1.386s  19
12.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.786  + 1.575s  19
13.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:28.910  + 1.699s  18
14.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:29.443  + 2.232s  20
15.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:29.928  + 2.717s  19
16.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:30.203  + 2.992s  17
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:30.729  + 3.518s  17
18.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:30.969  + 3.758s  19
19.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:31.263  + 4.052s  24
20.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:32.176  + 4.965s  23
21.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:32.274  + 5.063s  21
22.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:32.388  + 5.177s  18

Second practice

Being over a second off the pace in first practice, McLaren’s day got even worse in FP2, with team leader Jenson Button being a shocking 2.3 seconds off the Red Bull’s times.

Lotus were particularly consistent, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking 4th and 5th, with Nico Rosberg behind the two Red Bulls at the front. Ferrari had less pace on the super-soft tyre, and coupled with Massa’s KERS issue, it meant that they weren’t as fast near the end of the day.

With McLaren oddly stuck in the midfield, Sauber and Force India each got one driver past Button, while Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso got within 0.05 seconds of Sergio Perez.

The Williams team seems to have gone backwards, with a lowly 16th being the best they could manage in FP2. Further back, Marussia appear to have made gains on the Caterham team, with Jules Bianchi going half a second faster than Charles Pic.

Mercedes suffered reliability issues near the end of the session, with both Hamilton and Rosberg stopping with gearbox problems. Mark Webber had a spin at Turn 13, but avoided a crash at his home event.


Pos. Driver                Team                  Time       Gap     Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:25.908           33
 2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:26.172  + 0.264  31
 3.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:26.322  + 0.414  26
 4.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:26.361  + 0.453  37
 5.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus Renault         1:26.680  + 0.772  30
 6.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:26.748  + 0.840  35
 7.  Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes              1:26.772  + 0.864  28
 8.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:26.855  + 0.947  32
 9.  Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes  1:27.435  + 1.527  34
10.  Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.187  + 2.279  34
11.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.294  + 2.386  30
12.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:28.311  + 2.403  37
13.  Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.566  + 2.658  32
14.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:28.627  + 2.719  31
15.  Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.772  + 2.864  33
16.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:28.852  + 2.944  36
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:28.968  + 3.060  35
18.  Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault      1:29.386  + 3.478  38
19.  Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth     1:29.696  + 3.788  30
20.  Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault      1:30.165  + 4.257  37
21.  Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth     1:30.600  + 4.692  34
22.  Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault      1:32.450  + 6.542  11


Obviously, Red Bull are the force to be reckoned with, but rain is forecast for qualifying and the race, so that might throw a spanner in the works. Otherwise, a Vettel win is the most probable option at this stage.

Lotus look very consistent, and they might just still be sandbagging a little, so keep an eye out for them this weekend, particularly Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari and Mercedes have shown promising flashes, but a win looks out of their reaches for the moment. Still, these four teams are currently creating a closely-packed 4-way duel at the top.

McLaren, meanwhile, are teetering dangerously close to the midfield, mixing it with the Force Indias and Saubers on Friday. Unless rain falls, getting through to Q3 might even be a stretch for Button and Perez.

Williams aren’t going anywhere fast, but the Toro Rosso car might just have some hidden potential there. At the back, it’ll be a much more closely-fought contest than 2012, with Marussia currently gaining a small edge over Caterham.

But this is still speculation, and we’ll have to confirm or deny my predictions come qualifying. See you then!

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