The opening free practice session of the new Formula One season appeared to confirm that 2009 could witness the most unpredictable competition for many seasons, with unfamiliar names topping the times and a reshuffled order.

Of course, free practice - and especially the first session of the season, on a street circuit to boot - is never going to be the most accurate guide to form, but Williams duo Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima provided a breath of fresh air after recent Ferrari and McLaren domination by leading the way after 90 minutes of action at a cool and overcast Albert Park.

Shrugging off the diffuser row that has dominated - and somewhat soured - the start of the new-look F1 campaign, the Toyota-powered pair vaulted to the head of the times in the closing stages of the session, with Rosberg ultimately clinching top spot with a 1min 26.687secs effort on the harder of the two Bridgestone tyre options.

The German's lap only just edged both his team-mate and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, however, as they got to within 0.049secs and 0.063secs of the benchmark respectively, but the challenge of running on a seldom-used surface, and the variation in programmes, was highlighted by the fact that only the top seven got to within a second of Rosberg's time.

Raikkonen used the softer tyre to post his best lap, having headed the timesheets on several occasions during the session, and ended the 90 minutes just under half a second ahead of fourth-placed Rubens Barrichello. Along with team-mate Jenson Button, who ended the session sixth fastest, the Brazilian again underlined the fact that Brawn GP's testing performances had not been artifically enhanced, although the team - along with Williams and Toyota - remains embroiled in the ongoing diffuser saga.

Splitting the two largely unadorned Brawns was McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, whose performance - he took a turn at the top, along with Barrichello - will have given the Woking team a glimmer of hope after a troubled pre-season. Further developments appeared to be in the offing for the MP4-24 as mechanics wheeled large crates through the Melbourne paddock overnight, and may not come too soon for reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who ended the session mired down in 16th spot.

Felipe Massa was seventh fastest, the final driver to get within a second of Rosberg, while Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten.

While, again, results will be viewed with caution until qualifying, Sutil's performance hints at better things for Force India - which also posted 14th spot with veteran Giancarlo Fisichella - as the German headed a tight midfield group that also included both BMW Saubers and Jarno Trulli's Toyota.

While numerous drivers - notably Hamilton and the two Ferraris, but also the likes of Nelson Piquet Jr and Nakajima - explored the limits of the circuit in their first taste of Melbourne under the new-look F1 regulations, there were also mechanical gremlins, most of which appeared attracted to the Red Bull-backed cars.

Neither Mark Webber or Sebastian Vettel completed the session, the victim of driveshaft and hydraulic problems respectively, while Toro Rosso duo Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais wound up 15th and 19th overall.



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