After all the hype and the build up to the new season it was rather a frustrating first day of the new season in Melbourne. Rain affected both sessions, the second one more than the first and the amount of dry running was limited.
Michael Schumacher set the fastest time in the afternoon on a drying track; not hugely significant in itself save for the impression that the 43 year old seven times champion is excited by this new Mercedes and the step closer to the front that it represents.
Red Bull looked like they were carrying lots of fuel all day and never showed their hand, McLaren delivered on expectations, looking competitive and setting the fastest times of the day in the morning, with Jenson Button heading Lewis Hamilton in Free Practice one, which featured around 40 minutes of dry running. The Ferrari looked a handful, Alonso sliding the car aggressively in search of a lap time. Felipe Massa had an off in the morning and looks some way off Alonso’s pace.
But the attention is on Mercedes at the moment, not least because they did not run the new passive F Duct system which has been cleared by the FIA’s Charlie Whiting. Perhaps we will see it on the car tomorrow. It’s a powerful tool, but its benefit will not be seen here. Malaysia and especially China with its long straight will really show the benefit.
“Today was a nice start into a hopefully exciting season, and certainly two promising sessions for us,” said an upbeat Schumacher. “However, I would not go so far as to speak about being confident, as the weather conditions were too mixed to gain a clear picture. We know what Friday sessions are for and don’t know what fuel loads others were running. On the other hand, it is good to see that we were competitive in different circumstances today and that the car provides good handling – I just feel it.”
On his first competitive outing in an F1 car for two years, Kimi Raikkonen lost time this morning when he needed to change the steering rack; he managed just 8 laps in the dry and left it until the end of the second session to go out. A grand total of 15 laps for the great comeback.
HRT suffered to prepare two cars, De la Rosa managing just one lap in the second session, although Karthikeyan covered 19 in the day. But it will be a bog challenge for them to qualify within 107% tomorrow, to avoid a repeat of last year where they were not allowed to start the race.
Marussia did well to cover 49 laps with a car, which had not managed to do any pre-season testing. This car is a completely fresh start after the disappointing cars of 2010 and 2011. It will be very interesting to see what kind of pace it has, but without any time to do set up work there will clearly be much more time to come from the car over the next few races.
With so much time lost today, the focus tomorrow will be on preparing the car for qualifying, especially for the less experienced drivers.
* Listen to Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn talk about how he’s building the team into a winning outfit on the JA on F1 podcast. CLICK HERE
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, Free Practice 2
1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m29.183s 16 Laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m29.292s + 0.109 19
3. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m30.199s + 1.016 23
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m30.341s + 1.158 13
5. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m30.709s + 1.526 14
6. Paul di Resta Force India 1m31.466s + 2.283 13
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.505s + 2.322 14
8. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m31.932s + 2.749 16
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.184s + 3.001 17
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m32.194s + 3.011 19
11. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m32.296s + 3.113 20
12. Timo Glock Marussia 1m32.632s + 3.449 17
13. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m32.767s + 3.584 15
14. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m32.822s + 3.639 11
15. Jenson Button McLaren 1m33.039s + 3.856 18
16. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m33.252s + 4.069 11
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m34.108s + 4.925 21
18. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m34.275s + 5.092 7
19. Bruno Senna Williams 1m34.312s + 5.129 17
20. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m34.485s + 5.302 29
21. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m34.604s + 5.421 31
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m34.770s + 5.587 13
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m42.627s + 13.444 16
24. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1