Saturday March 16, 2013
Vettel and Webber dominate first real test in style
WORLD champion Sebastian Vettel took up where he left off last season as Red Bull dominated opening practice yesterday ahead of tomorrow’s season-opening Australian GP.
Vettel — bidding for a fourth consecutive world drivers’ crown — posted the fastest times in both practice sessions, settling with a best lap of 1:25.908 in the afternoon to stake his claim for tomorrow’s Melbourne race.
Australian Mark Webber (1:26.172) completed an emphatic one-two for the champion Red Bull team as main title rivals Ferrari and McLaren trailed in their wake.
“Overall it was a good day for us. It was pretty seamless and there was no trouble with the car,” Vettel said. “After all the mileage of testing, it was fun to be out there. This circuit doesn’t get easier, it’s a good challenge.
“Today was a good day and the balance was good, but we need to be ready for tomorrow.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, edged out by Vettel in last year’s championship, finished 0.840 seconds behind Vettel’s fastest lap, while last season’s Melbourne winner Jenson Button was well down in 11th place in his McLaren.
“Qualifying won’t be easy, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do a better job on Saturday than we’ve done today,” Button said.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said McLaren were “struggling to understand” their new car and were lacking grip.
Alonso said he was not surprised by the quicker times recorded by the Red Bull cars.
“I’m not expecting any major surprises here, we already knew we were not the quickest and that was confirmed today,” he said.
“The car responds well, but we know there is still much to do if we want to fight with the very best.”
Vettel firmly eased doubts over Red Bull’s performances in winter testing in Spain with his fast times as the Formula One season got under way. Coupled with Webber’s speed in the team’s other car Red Bull threw down the gauntlet to their rivals ahead of today’s qualifying for grid positions in the season opener.
“We still have a huge amount to go through tonight and we’re expecting a bit of overcast stuff tomorrow, so we need to be ready for that,” Webber said.
“Overall, it was pretty positive for us, but there are still areas to improve on.”
Lewis Hamilton, driving for Mercedes, clocked the seventh best lap time of 1:26.772 before his session was finished when he ran off the circuit near the end and was forced to walk back to the paddock.
“Overall it was a good day, if perhaps not the smoothest,” Hamilton said.
“I’m happy with where we are and to see Nico in third place on the timesheets shows that we’re pretty competitive.”
German team-mate Nico Rosberg ran an encouraging third (1:26.322) for Mercedes but his afternoon session finished early with gearbox trouble.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in a Lotus ahead of French team-mate Romain Grosjean. — AFP
Free practice times
Second session: 1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:25.908, 2. Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:26.172, 3. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:26.322, 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus 1:26.361, 5. Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus 1:26.680, 6. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:26.748, 7. Lewis Hamilton (Bri) Mercedes 1:26.772, 8. Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:26.855, 9. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:27.435, 10. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber 1:28.187, 11. Jenson Button (Bri) McLaren 1:28.294, 12. Paul di Resta (Bri) Force India 1:28.311, 13. Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren 1:28.566, 14. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso 1:28.627, 15. Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber 1:28.772, 16. Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:28.852, 17. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso 1:28.968, 18. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:29.386, 19. Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia 1:29.696, 20. Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham 1:30.165, 21. Max Chilton (Bri) Marussia 1:30.600, 22. Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham 1:32.450.