While Red Bull were hogging the top of the time sheets in Friday free practice in Melbourne ahead of the 2013 F1 Australian Grand Prix, it was the pace of the Mercedes F1 W04 that was getting some admiring glances from many of those in the paddock at Albert Park.

Lewis Hamilton finished the early session with the fourth fastest time of FP1, and his new team mate Nico Rosberg ended up with the third fastest time of the day after setting a lap of 1:26.322s in the second session in the late afternoon sunshine.

Plenty to celebrate, then? Well - not quite, as it turned out.

"We had a very good day today," explained team principal Ross Brawn. "Until the last five minutes of the second session."

Both drivers ended up with premature ends to their day and having to leave their cars stuck out on the track rather than being able to drive them back to pit lane. Hamilton's car ran off into the gravel at turn 3, while Nico Rosberg was forced to pull over and park just minutes later.

"We got some good mileage on the car today but at the end we had some minor issues," said Toto Wolff. "We had a gearbox issue and a problem with the bib. So it's not a big drama."

It was Rosberg whose gearbox had failed on him, but he was remaining philosophical about the incident and not getting unduly concerned about any potential reliability issues possibly starting to rear their head.

"These things happen and it doesn't affect us for tomorrow," he said afterwards. "That was an interesting day for us. There are a lot of new things to learn with the car and we made some good progress over the day. We can certainly be happy with our testing programme when you compare where we came from last year."

Lewis Hamilton can't make a direct comparison with last year considering it's his first Grand Prix weekend with Mercedes, but he could be forgiven a smile when he looked at the end-of-day timesheets and saw how much better Mercedes was doing compared with his old team McLaren overall.

"Overall it was a good day, if perhaps not the smoothest," he said. "I'm happy with where we are and to see Nico in third place on the timesheets shows that we're pretty competitive. That's a reflection of a great job that everyone has done at the factory and here at the track. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the weekend," he added.

Hamilton's late off into the gravel had been caused by damage to the underside of the his car, the team subsequently revealed.

"With Lewis, there was some damage to the floor of the car from an earlier run which caused him to go off," said Brawn.

Even so, between them the two drivers had completed 89 laps of the circuit and been able to complete almost all of their planned programme for the day, so Brawn was pleased with how things had gone despite the last minute stumble.

"Overall it was a very reasonable first day and we were able to get a good picture of the tyres and the balance of the car," he said. "There will be the inevitable late night in the engineering office as we look over today's data and work out how to optimise the car for tomorrow."

"It was a useful and busy test day for the team," concurred Wolff. "We completed most of our programme on a range of fuel loads and collected our first impressions of the tyre behaviour here in Melbourne.

"It was a solid start to the weekend and another milestone passed for us," he added. "Now we need to continue improving the car overnight and see what tomorrow brings in qualifying."



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