As 2014 Formula One got down to business in Melbourne today, Lewis Hamilton bounced back from an on-track stoppage in the first session to set the fastest time of the day in Free Practice Two and lead a Mercedes one-two ahead of Nico Rosberg, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso completing the top three.
With new regulations causing reliability issues during pre-season testing – for some more than others – it seems that the final two weeks of preparation have allowed for an improvement in durability, particularly for Red Bull Racing, who set the fourth- and sixth-fastest times in the afternoon with Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo respectively. The Milton Keynes squad enjoyed a trouble-free day. Vetted completed 41 laps this afternoon, more than any other car managed in a single session.
At Mercedes, a sensor issue caused Hamilton to stop on his out-lap in FP1. The Briton was then forced to make a long trip back to the paddock where the was rather comically stopped from entering the paddock by a security guard, who presumably upbraided the 2008 champion for not having the correct – Hamilton’s race suit and helmet not being clue enough. The brief halt there didn’t do much for his mood following his on-track stoppage.
Things brightened considerably in FP2 and Mercedes quickly established themselves as the pacesetters on both the medium and soft tyre. Rosberg held the top spot in the first half of the session, the German becoming the first to break the 90-second barrier and in the process establishing a 0.350s lead over Alonso.
Hamilton completed a handful of laps on the medium tyre before a soft tyre run took him to the top of the times, 0.157s clear of Rosberg. He then turned his attentions to a long run on the soft tyre.
“It really was a day of two halves today, ” said the 29 year old. “While it was disappointing to not get any track time this morning, these little hiccups are going to happen with the new cars and we’ll have to get used to that. It felt like I was on the back foot from there but then we got up to pace quite quickly in P2 and found the balance relatively fast. I feel quite comfortable in the car so overall it’s a positive start.”
The Mercedes also had the best race pace, Hamilton doing a 15 lap run with times in the mid 1m 33s and low 1m34s. In comparison the Red Bull did a 15 lap run in the mid 1m 34s, Ferrari a 15 lap run in the mid 1m 34s, McLaren high 1m34s and low 1m35s, Williams in the low 1m 35s. It looks like Mercedes has a healthy advantage in race pace.
For Alonso, too, it was a decent outing. After setting the pace in FP1 he was the best of the rest this afternoon, 0.5s adrift of Hamilton’s time. The sister Ferrari F14 T of Kimi Raikkonen ended the day in seventh place, overcoming an ERS issue in the morning session to complete over thirty laps and have his blushes spared as a close shave with a wall on the entry to Turn 11 did not punish the Finn.
Sandwiched between the Red Bull pairing was the McLaren of Jenson Button, the three-time Australian Grand Prix winner ending the day 0.9s slower than Hamilton after taking second place in FP1. Interestingly he was the only driver to not run the soft tyre, maintaining a 0.5s buffer over team-mate Kevin Magnussen, who did.
Magnussen ended his first competitive day in Formula One in ninth place, supported either side by Valtteri Bottas in eighth and Nico Hulkenberg completing the top 10. Magnussen was a shade slower than Button over the 15 lap long run, but that’s to be expected for a driver on his first run at Albert Park compared to a three time winner here. Magnussen’s consistency was again impressive.
The woes suffered by Lotus in pre-season testing showed no signs of abating today, with Romain Grosjean failing to complete a lap in FP1, while Pastor Maldonado managed just two. In the late afternoon running Grosjean got 12 laps under his belt before a suspected brake issue pitched the Frenchman into the gravel, Maldonado failed to complete a lap however.
Another Renault team, Caterham, had a difficult day, the Leafield squad completing a combined three timed laps across the three hours of testing. Kamui Kobayashi was sidelined all day with a fuel system problem and Marcus Ericsson’s running was halted by an electrical issue. However the fourth Renault team, Toro Rosso, covered plenty of laps.
Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne, Free Practice
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m29.625s 37
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m29.782s +0.157s 31
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m30.132s +0.507s 28
4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m30.381s +0.756s 41
5. Jenson Button McLaren 1m30.510s +0.885s 33
6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m30.538s +0.913s 38
7. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m30.898s +1.273s 32
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m30.920s +1.295s 38
9. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m31.031s +1.406s 34
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m31.054s +1.429s 33
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m31.060s +1.435s 35
12. Felipe Massa Williams 1m31.119s +1.494s 31
13. Sergio Perez Force India 1m31.283s +1.658s 36
14. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m32.355s +2.730s 36
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m32.468s +2.843s 26
16. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m32.495s +2.870s 36
17. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m33.486s +3.861s 29
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m33.646s +4.021s 12
19. Max Chilton Marussia 1m34.757s +5.132s 29
20. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1
21. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
22. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham