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Button fastest in opening Melbourne practice

Jenson Button led a McLaren 1-2 in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix.

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton put McLaren at the top of the first official timesheet of the 2012 F1 season, but the opening free practice session in Australia did little to provide a clearer picture of the pecking order.

The McLaren duo vaulted to the top of the order in the final third of the 90-minute session, after damp conditions made the early running little more than exploratory. Melbourne had been hit by a series of downpours in the 24 hours prior to the action getting under way, and the rain continued, albeit more lightly, even as the green light appeared at the end of pit-lane on Friday morning. Adding to the tricky conditions, an oil slick laid by one of the supporting races meant that caution was the order of the day until the surface dried out.

Caterham's aim of being the first car on track at Albert Park did not come to pass, as Toro Rosso stole that honour, courtesy of rookie Jean-Eric Vergne, as well as that for first flying lap, as Daniel Ricciardo set the bar at 1min 47.448secs. Although the benchmark was gradually lowered by the likes of Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Kamui Kobayashi, it was some time before the teams had the confidence to switch from intermediates - or full wets in Rosberg's case - to slicks, with Kobayashi immediately going some five seconds faster than he had previously managed.

The Japanese was followed at the top of the charts by Red Bull's Mark Webber and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, and the German appeared to be on course for FP1 honours until McLaren wound up its two MP4-27s and allowed Button and Hamilton to go for it in the final 15 minutes. Button was the first to depose the Mercedes, posting a 1min 27.560secs target with just under ten minutes to go, with Hamilton eventually slotting into second spot on his final run, having been denied a shot at replacing his team-mate by traffic on a previous run. The younger Briton ended the session just over two-tenths off the pace, with Schumacher four-tenths further back in third place.

Alonso somehow held on to fourth, despite his Ferrari still showing some wild handling traits, while Webber and Rosberg rounded out the top six, ahead of some surprising names, including Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado, who filled seventh and eighth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Kobayashi. The Finn's appearance in the leading group - albeit some two seconds off the pace - was unexpected as his E20 had been without a steering system for much of the session as Lotus attempted to find the right solution for the circuit.

World champion Sebastian Vettel was only eleventh fastest despite putting in a 21-lap total bettered only by a handful of rivals, but there was worse news for another potential frontrunner, as Felipe Massa exited the fray at turn nine with a third of the session still to run. Although he radioed the pits to check for a possible fault on the Ferrari, video footage clearly showed a couple of wheels on the still damp grass....

There was also frustration for HRT, which managed only three laps with Narain Karthikeyan before an oil pressure sensor shut the Indian's Cosworth engine down before he had the chance to set a time. Team-mate Pedro de la Rosa failed to even get out on track, meanwhile, as the team was still building his car after its request to delay scrutineering. That left the Spanish team behind expected rival Marussia which, despite getting both Timo Glock and Charles Pic out for the whole session, still lagged seven the twelve seconds off the pace - and outside the 107 per cent mark that will play a part in qualifying.



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Narain Karthikeyan, HRT F112 [Pic credit: HRT]
Timo Glock - Marussia-Cosworth MR01
03.03.2012 Felipe Massa (BRA), Scuderia Ferrari, F2012
04.03.2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN), Lotus F1 Team E20
04.03.2012 Michael Schumacher (GER), Mercedes AMG Petronas
04.03.2012 Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren Mercedes MP4-27
23.02.2012, Barcelona, Spain, Jenson Button (GBR), McLaren Mercedes   - Formula 1 Testing, day 3 - Formula 1 World Championship
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4-29 and Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB10
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Christian Horner (GBR), Red Bull Racing, Sporting Director
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Mechanics Red Bull work on the car of Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Johnny Herbert (GBR), Max Chilton (GBR), Marussia F1 Team MR03 and Demon Hill (GBR)
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Christian Horner (GBR), Red Bull Racing, Sporting Director
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10 and Helmut Marko (AUT), Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Advisor
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sahara Force India F1 VJM07
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams F1 Team FW36
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Scuderia Ferrari F14-T
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Kamui Kobayashi (JAP) Caterham F1 Team CT-04
19.09.2014- Free Practice 2, Mechanics Red Bull work on the car of Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10

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