Vettel and Red Bull on ominous form on Day One of new F1 season
Scuderia Ferrari
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Mar 2013   |  10:09 am GMT  |  289 comments

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel set the pace on the first day of the season in Melbourne. The German was the only driver to set a time under 1m 26s and his best time was set on the third lap on his supersoft tyres, having been forced to abort the first lap on the final sector due to traffic. This suggests that there was more to come.

Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber was second, with Nico Rosberg third for Mercedes. However Rosberg ended the session walking back to the paddock after a gearbox problem stopped his car on track.

Mercedes had problems on Lewis Hamilton’s car as well; the new recruit also walked back in after driving into a gravel trap after part of the floor broke.

The Red Bull also looked strong on long runs on both types of tyres, confirming that their performance at the final Barcelona test, where they tried many new things, was not an act of desperation, but a sign of confidence that they would have a good car for the start of the season and could afford to look at future developments.

How far ahead they are we will learn over the next 48 hours, although rain is forecast for qualifying.

Other indications from today are that the Mercedes looks fast in qualifying trim, while the Lotus and Ferrari look consistent on the long runs. Lotus’ race pace could well be one of the stories of Sunday afternoon; Kimi Raikkonen’s 14 lap run was impressive at the end of the second session. Both Lotus cars finished in the top five.

After all kinds of dire predictions about tyre degradation, today suggested that althoiugh there is significant degradation, the drivers will probably need to stop two or three times on Sunday; the front runners may find three stops faster.

It looks like the game for the drivers starting on supersoft will be to pit early, between laps 5 and 8 and get onto the medium tyre for the rest of the race. This will offer opportunities for drivers who qualify just outside the top ten, to start on the medium tyre.

Jenson Button and Sergio Perez may be among that number; the McLaren lacks rear grip and also seems to be jumpy over the bumps. Jenson Button looked dejected after the second practice session and questioned whether he would manage to get into the top ten in qualifying.

“Clearly, we’re not as quick as we’d like to be, so our task now is to work hard to find out why our car is like it is, particularly in terms of ride and downforce,” said Button.

“Our short runs weren’t particularly encouraging, to be honest. We’re a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things, and that’s always going to be disappointing for a team as successful as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, Free Practice
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m25.908 33 laps
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m26.172s + 0.264 31
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m26.322s + 0.414 26
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m26.361s + 0.453 37
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m26.680s + 0.772 30
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.748s + 0.840 35
7. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m26.772s + 0.864 28
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m26.855s + 0.947 32
9. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m27.435s + 1.527 34
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m28.187s + 2.279 34
11. Jenson Button McLaren 1m28.294s + 2.386 30
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m28.311s + 2.403 37
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m28.566s + 2.658 32
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m28.627s + 2.719 31
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m28.772s + 2.864 33
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m28.852s + 2.944 36
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m28.968s + 3.060 35
18. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m29.386s + 3.478 38
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m29.696s + 3.788 30
20. Charles Pic Caterham 1m30.165s + 4.257 37
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m30.600s + 4.692 34
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m32.450s + 6.542 11

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It was appalling and painful to see Mclaren struggle to this degree…. I do have my suspicions about them sand bagging or are fine tuning something radical?

OR has the Flexi-wings rules have hurt them the most??? For Remember Silverstone 2012 a revision came about and Mclaren were really struggling as they are here in Australia in 2013.

So, was the late season speed in Mclaren from Singapore till Brazil (even though Hamilton retired in three of, he was untouchable till then)was purely down to flexi-wings?

If not so then why would a team dedicate resources to unnecessary changes in a dominant car rather than fine-tune it just like all the rest have done? especially when there is complete overhaul of rules in 2014 and resources are best allocated to that as all the other teams have done.

So, while the world was focusing on Redbull’s flexi-wings was Mclaren’s flexi-wings giving it more unfair advantage then it did the Redbulls and the Ferraris?

Questions, Speculations….. ummmmm’ interesting 🙂


Hi James, i was wondering if you know any truth that Mclaren could revert to last years Mp4 27?….i hope they understand the current challenger in time. I feel probably on the 5th race they could revert to last years challenger inbut not sure. What is your take on Mclarens crisis i mean no Paddy Lowe who engineered and designed the Mp4 28.



Paddy didn’t design the car. Tim Goss who is now technical director will have been more hands on than Paddy in that respect.

I think it’s a loss, certainly.

I’ll check if the rules allow them to revert, They chassis has been homologated for 2013 and to change requires all the teams to agree


It is believed that Martin Witmarsh will wait until they understand this car as its a New concept all together. I believe its to do with suspension and or geometry. It was emerged that Mclaren got a suspension component the wrong way which lowered the car down below legal limit and hence faster time at Jerez. I personally feel Mclaren should created an evolution car from the Mp4 27. I hope they go for a b spec of Mp4 27.


Hi James,

Great site. Do you think there is enough potential in the Lotus for Kimi to have a chance for the WDC this year? And if there is do they have the resources to further develop it?



There is a lot of potential, but they don’t have the resources to match development of Red Bull and Ferrari, McLaren and Merc.


Also before everybody gets carried away about LH and Merc, MSC topped FP2 last year in Australia.


Hi James, I would like to have your opinion on Jenson. Lots of comments in this post saying Jenson has no feedback to the engineers. Is this just our EXPERT readers persons opinion or there are some truth to it. You opinion please.


Think you would find that’s Mclaren’s chosen asset within Button car development dialogue and if he performs outstanding it’s an obvious bonus, All be it somethings defo up this yr!


He’s very good, of course. After 13 years and being an intelligent bloke.

Button’s sweet spot in terms of driving a car on the limit is narrower than Hamilton or Alonso, so he needs a car a certain way to get the most out of it.

But in feedback terms he uses phrases like “there’s no grip” but then does get down to nitty gritty.


Thank you James. That’s what I thought. If his really that bad, he won’t be around that long


Mclaren, as I understand, ditched their MP4-27 because of limited scope for improvement. They suspected that they would be very competiive in initial races as they had very good baseline going by their form towards the end last season. But after 4-5 races they might have exhausted all options of development and fallen behind other in development race.

Now my question to James would be if we are going to see something like this happening to RBR as they have retained their car from last year? They were as competitive as Mclaren last year, if not more. But how long can they keep developing the same car?


Hello James, Do you think Mclaren have made a strategic mistake by going for a revolutionary car for just one year of its life? Next year all the research and developments to this car would have to be scrapped!



No. I think everyone’s panicking but ask that question again at Spanish GP. If they are still off by then, it’s a problem


@McLaren comments: I don’t understand why has McLaren made such huge changes to their car. Speed and downforce clearly weren’t the issues last year. Reliability was. Look at Red Bull. They had the fastest car along with McLaren, and they didn’t screw their whole aerodynamics, car body etc up, they just perfected it. That’s what McLaren should have done as well, and they would have a competitive car now (by looking at Mercedes AMG, it seems like the engine isn’t the issue either).

On topic, I got no problems with Vettel, but it would be great to see a year when Red Bull isn’t the best car overall, to see how they perform in a car like last year’s Ferrari. Besides that, Alonso and Raikkönen would really deserve another title.


I fear we’ll all need much Red Bull to stay awake this season as RBR runaway and hide.


Ferrari engine sounded restricted on the tely, may be due gearing? Or mapping? I thing on qually would be a different story by the reds. Many off throttle blowing sounds for the first GP by many cars too! Or may be TV sound is not representative.???.


If RB is too dominant, I would just assume they are not on the grid and enjoy / watch racing similar to it happenned 2 years ago when Vettel won virtually everything.

I would however hope all the teams are in a mix and will fight with very little between them.


Vettel for pole, Raikkonen or Alonso for the win. Both the Ferrari and the Lotus look to have better race pace than Red Bull. A safety car could help Mercedes.


Vettel’s best time Friday was almost a full second off last year’s pole position time, in cars of very similar specifications.


They can only use DRS on designated areas this year, same as in the race last year.


It’s quite obvious that McLaren know they have to repeat 2009 with Jenson… that is build a car that is 1 second a lap quicker then the rest of the field… Jenson will flop in a competitive car – he needs an extra second to be competitive.

This desperate state of affairs and the total lack of quality feedback from Jenson has taken McLaren development down the toilet.

McLaren, under the guidance of Whitmarsh, made a fatal mistake in letting Hamilton go, while thinking Button was some kind of car developer.

All hell is going to break loose in McLaren – heads must roll… Whitmarsh will be first on the chopping block.


McLaren under the guidance of Dennis made a fatal mistake of letting Alonso go. You could trace all of it all the way back there. That was their highest point, having Alonso and Lewis in a same team and they managed to go steadily down from there. They lost the best two drivers and they’ve lost their two technical directors. One followed Alonso, the other followed Hamilton.


I miss any part on STR/FI/WILLIAM and SAuber in the piece.


If it’s not raining I won’t watch- no point watching the Red Bulls go around and around, lap after lap with no competition around them…


There is no competition mate when it comes to machinery against RBR

My wonder Newey has produced another rocket ship here RB9

Vettel could have done a 1:25:400. There is plenty of pace still left in RBR

Only rain can stop a RBR front row lock out tomorrow. I often wonder how newey comes up with quickest cars year after year

Today vettel and webber had no grrip problems at all RB9 looked very planted and has plenty of down-force. While lotus and Mercedes looks good for P3 to P6


Did you notice vettel stopping FP3…that is a sign of weakness in the rocket ship.


There were never any serious doubts concerning Red Bull except for how far ahead they really were. It looks like Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes will be in with a chance of joining them on the steps on Sundays. McLaren are in the weeds. They have designed a car that is difficult and time consuming for their mechanics to work on. They might struggle for a set-up every race. Button won’t be of much help.


I would not rule out a top 4 finish for the Mclaren squad. Do you remember Ferrari 2012?


Non of their drivers are named Alonso or Hamilton…


Do you remember McLaren doesn´t have Alonso and not even Hamilton to pull that off?


P.S I’m not a Mclaren fan at all!)


At the risk of turning into a nay-sayer, I would point out that how cars are performing on the first day of running on a street circuit which is still very much “green” isn’t much of an indicator of form at the best of times. Coming off the back of a series of tests where tyre performance has been all over the place and data hard to come by, it’s even less so. Certainly it looks very much like Red Bull are on very strong form indeed, but beyond that I wouldn’t want to call any of the other positions on the grid. Given another day of number-crunching and set-up changes, much of the grid could end up in a completely different order by qualifying.


I would seriously enjoy a fantasy F1 league here on these pages.

But looking at all these predictions, I think we’re already there!

I want to see everyone come back here Sunday night and admit where and why they all went so wrong!

And btw St Patty’s Day activities are not an excuse!


Before everyone gets too over excited about Mercedes pace an Hamilton’s inspired move to the team you need to remember this time last year Schumacher was 3rd fastest in FP1 and fastest in FP2. Early days


The real answer will come in the race. Schumacher & Rosberg didn’t score at all last year.

Of course, people also forget that Alonso went off in Q2, or Vettel in FP3. But both scored useful points on race day.


Well yes, but that W03 was fundamentally flawd, so far no indication that’s the case with the W04. There are reasons for optimism.


Very encouraged by Hamilton’s pace…..before he went off during practice #2, Lewis’s time was faster than Vettel in the first section.


A lot of people didn’t notice this. He’s right there .Seb will have the edge tomorrow though, but the season is long and consistency is key.


Hopefully another whooping for alonso! haha, i still remember his dejected face after the race two years ago!


I really do not understand the flak that McLaren is under, in every Comments section on all F1 sites I read. They were honest during the testing, they did not expect to have a quick/fast car. In the 25 years of following F1 I learned that some teams are never to be underestimated and all teams have ups and down whatever the caliber.

Let’s just wait a couple of races to get a clearer picture. For the moment, the first signs are that Red Bulls are the ones to beat, Ferrari + Merc + Lotus are close, McLaren seem to be having the second dud in 5 years, Sauber + Williams + Force India seem to be set for a season long threesome, Marussia and Caterham will have a long and torrid affair in 2013.



I used this word to describe the Red Bull form at the first test February 8th (look for yourself if you don;t believe it: ).

James, you certainly have it right!

For Red Bull, it seems business as usual; unfortunately for Mark Webber, it means he is in second, about 2 tenths back, then everybody else, behind.

As mentioned before on these pages, tire degradation will be AT LEAST as important a factor as last season. It looks, here in Melbourne, that it will be more important than last year.

It will be very interesting to see a day time high temperature of 18 degrees, if forecasts are correct, come race day, and how this affects the tire enigma.

Kimi and Lotus, in general, look strong.

I think Ferrari still have systemic issues, but both drivers, now, I expect, can pull things out of the bag, if all the staars are aligned.

Mercedes is for real; but I still don’t think they have the lap-over-lap tire management of Lotus; that being said, Hamilton can always make things happen, and I believe that this is the last chance for Nico Rosberg; he has the technical ability, now he just has to capitalize on it. There is no reason that Nico can’t race point-for-point with Lewis, and this should be a great in-house duel (on top of the best photo op on the grid).

Great post, James; keep them coming!

VP of Common Sense

You we’re doing well until you ignored the last 3 years for a few weeks of low fuel running in testing for Mercedes. The car has decent qualifying pace, but on full tanks it’s not very fast. Ferrari are far better placed than most believed. 2013 should be much closer than most believed.


I think you can now see the prescience of my comment, now that Kimi has won, Ferrari were close, Vettel-Red Bull strong, and Lewis-Mercedes, indeed for real, but not able to match the lap-over-lap race pace of Kimi-Lotus.

Though modest, I am gratified to see the driver I think is the best in the world, winning the first race.

I don’t think we’ve seen the ‘normal’ race pace of Red Bull.

I’m still not convinced of the ultimate comparative position of Ferrari; they seem close, but if anything, I think the conditions at Melbourne may have flattered them slightly.

Great comment; I’ll look forward to seeing more of ou in the future.

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