It would not have been expected after 2008, but practice form suggested that Force India might not be the whipping boys in qualifying this season.

However, the aspiration of getting at least one car into the second knock-out phase in Melbourne evaporated in the opening 20 minutes as both Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella found themselves in the bottom five - just as was the case on several occasions a year ago.

It is a mark, perhaps, of how far the Silverstone team has come that its drivers headline the early exits when accompanied by the likes of Nelson Piquet Jr and both Toro Rossos, but that will be little comfort for Vijay Mallya's tiny team.

Sutil bobbed in and out of the bottom five, where he was joined on occasion by bigger fish like Felipe Massa, Heikki Kovalainen and, most surprisingly after practice, Jarno Trulli. However, all three escaped the 'drop zone' to fight again.

The Brawn GP team eventually headed an ever-changing top end of the table, with Rubens Barrichello just edging team-mate Jenson Button by 0.005secs as both put in last-ditch laps.

Mark Webber sparked the home fans with a brief spell in P1, but eventually settled in third, ahead of Timo Glock and Nick Heidfeld.

Ferrari appeared more of a force before accepting sixth and eighth with Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, while practice pacesetter Nico Rosberg slotted into seventh in what was a very active session.

Lewis Hamilton? The Briton just escaped the drop, ending the session 15th fastest.



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