F1 » 15 March 2013
Vettel fastest in opening session of season
World champion Sebastian Vettel did just enough to put Red Bull Racing at the top of the timesheets in free practice at the Australian Grand Prix.
There was a familiar name at the top of the F1 timesheets as the first official practice session of 2013 came to a close on the streets of Albert Park.
Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel may have made a slow start to the 90-minute session, but soon confirmed that there is little wrong with this year's Red Bull by posting a 1min 27.211secs effort in the space of 16 laps to put himself fractionally ahead of the field.
The German's chief opposition came from Ferrari, which pushed both its cars into the top three, with Felipe Massa edging team-mate Fernando Alonso for second spot. The Brazilian, hoping to make a strong start to the year in order to boost both his and the Scuderia's title hopes, was just seven-hundredths off Vettel's pace, while Alonso was a couple of tenths further back and under threat from former McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
The Briton, now with Mercedes of course, lapped in 1min 27.552secs to lie just 0.005secs behind in fourth place, with the second Red Bull of home favourite Mark Webber rounding out the top five.
Alonso's claim that there were five teams, and ten drivers, capable of winning this weekend was underlined by the presence of both Lotus entries - Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean – in the top ten, the pair sandwiching Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Jenson Button at the tail of the lead group. While Sutil will be seen as little more than a dark horse this weekend, getting ahead of Button confirms Force India's solid start to the campaign.
McLaren, meanwhile, will not be happy seeing its lead driver only ninth fastest, with new team-mate Sergio Perez a couple of places further back as the timesheets confirmed suspicions that the MP4-28 has yet to unlock its true potential. The Mexican was among a number of drivers to kick up dust as he explored the limits of the Albert Park circuit, but showed well against Button in terms of lap time, clocking a best effort just a tenth shy of the Briton.
Paul di Resta made the biggest mistake of the session, ending his efforts in the gravel trap after sliding off at turn six in the waning moment, and had to settle for 13th spot as a result, nearly half a second slower than returning team-mate Sutil, with Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg just ahead of him in the order.
di Resta was, however, comfortably faster than the two Williams' entries of Pastor Maldonado and debutant Valtteri Bottas, themselves separated by half a second. Esteban Gutierrez took 16th spot on his first session as a Sauber race driver, while Toro Rosso brought up the back of the expected midfield, with Jean-Eric Vergne slightly faster than Daniel Ricciardo.
The 'third division' is down to just two teams this year, and it was Marussia that claimed first blood in its battle with Caterham, as rookies Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton both ended the session in front of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.
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