Nico Rosberg completed an inspiring day for the Williams team by pacing the second free practice session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, pushing the Grove team back into the limelight as the 2009 season kicked of in earnest.
Having already posted the fastest time in the opening 90-minute session, the German - who finished third in a safety car-afflicted opening round last year - further lowered the day's benchmark, taking six-tenths from his previous best on the softer Bridgestone tyres to leave the target at 1min 26.053secs.
Rival teams' concern about the controversial diffusers being employed by Williams, Toyota and Brawn GP appeared to be borne out during the early evening session, with Rosberg being joined at the top of the times by Brawn's Rubens Barrichello and Toyota's Jarno Trulli, with only a resurgent Mark Webber preventing a top six sweep by slotting in ahead of Jenson Button, Timo Glock and Kazuki Nakajima.
The Australian had been among the Red Bull runners to suffer in the earlier session but, once the team had corrected a supposed driveshaft problem, vaulted up the order, eventually coming to rest in fourth place and confirming that RBR's pre-season pace wasn't a mirage. Webber - like Rosberg, Barrichello et al
- won't be getting too excited just yet, however, for Friday has a habit of throwing up unexpected results as teams pursue varying programmes in preparation for the rest of the weekend.
Any improvements were set towards the start of the session, as the delayed schedule - designed to fit in with European television peaks later in the weekend - meant that the conditions cooled quickly as the sun began to go down, leaving the final portion good only for determining how cars may react to the chillier temperatures in qualifying and the race. All bar two drivers managed to post better laps second time around, however, with only Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen relying on first session times on the combined timesheet and dropping to ninth and 16th respectively.
Raikkonen's descent, in particular, suggested that Ferrari should not be counted out. The Scuderia regularly uses the second session of the weekend to run heavier fuel loads as it works on race set-ups, and Felipe Massa's eleventh position overall backed the belief that it had not been trying too hard to replicate the third and seventh spots it achieved first time around.
McLaren, by contrast, continues to look as if it is missing the performance - and parts - to run with the likes of Williams. Unless it is carrying its alleged 'sandbagging' to the extreme, the Woking team might struggle to feature in Melbourne, with Kovalainen's 16th spot still two better than that managed by world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The second session top ten, meanwhile, was completed by Sebastian Vettel - who enjoyed a faster, if not much longer outing, than earlier in the day - Adrian Sutil and Massa, with the Force India pilot suggesting that his early afternoon form had not been a flash in the pan. Team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was 13th fastest for both the session and the day after lapping just 0.050secs slower than double world champion Fernando Alonso's Renault.
BMW Sauber, meanwhile, trailed the Italian after both Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica reported a lack of grip in the second session. Although both posted their fastest times in the evening session, there were a few heads still being scratched in the camp as night fell.