The triple world champion was fastest in both sessions at Albert Park having narrowly edged Felipe Massa in FP1 before setting the pace in the second 90 minute session ahead of his teammate, Mark Webber.
It was a comfortable day at the office for both Red Bull drivers and afterwards Vettel spoke about the opening day of the 2013 season:
“Overall it was a good day for us,” commented the German. “It was pretty seamless and there was no trouble with the car. After all the mileage of testing, it was fun to be out there – this circuit doesn’t get easier, it’s a good challenge.”
The opening session saw an impressive challenge from Ferrari with Massa just ahead of his teammate, Fernando Alonso. In the second half of the session teams started to push their cars harder as the track cleaned up and at this point the Ferrari’s seemed very strong before Vettel ultimately pipped Massa by less than 0.1s.
Numerous drivers had off track excursions in the opening session as they learned the limits of the track with Paul di Resta spinning into the gravel trap as the session was drawing to a close.
FP2 saw teams use the super-soft tyres in the early stages before focusing on longer race simulation stints for the final hour of practice.
In this session the Red Bull’s enjoyed a comfortable advantage over the rest of the field with Nico Rosberg third, but over four tenths adrift of Vettel. Afterwards Vettel said that “The soft tyre doesn’t last too long, but the harder tyre is a decent race tyre. The weather should be quite changeable tomorrow and, as we can’t predict how much that will impact the tyres and car balance, we need to be ready to change things.”
Making the tyres work will be the key to Sunday’s race but with rain expected during the course of the weekend it is likely that for much of the weekend the drivers will have to contend with a slick track surface that will impact on tyre durability.
Rosberg finished the session early after a gearbox failure in the dying moments. The Mercedes driver was happy with the progress that the team has made over the winter:
“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.”
Their progress was emphasised with new signing Lewis Hamilton having a productive opening day to his Mercedes career. The 2008 world champion was fourth in the first session and seventh in the afternoon but completed 46 laps. He had an off in FP2 but this was later attributed to damage to the floor from an earlier incident.
At Hamilton’s former team, McLaren, there was much less cause for optimism with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez both struggling throughout the opening day. Button was two seconds adrift in the afternoon session and never looked comfortable on track. The team’s sporting director, Sam Michael, spoke after the session:
“Definitely, we are not where we need to be at this point in time,” he said. “We made quite a few changes to the car over the winter, and we still believe they will be good for the course of the season.”
It is far too early to draw conclusions on McLaren’s performance and it will only be during qualifying that we get any true indication of where the team stands at present but if the opening day is any indication there will be plenty sleepless nights for the team in the coming weeks.
Lotus on the other hand enjoyed a very promising day with both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in the top five in the afternoon session. The Renault engined car has been one of the more consistent during race simulations in testing and that form has held true this afternoon with both drivers looking very strong in race trim in Melbourne.
It was a difficult first day for the rookies of 2013 with Esteban Gutierrez the fastest of the quartet in 15th place in FP2. The Sauber driver had a solid day and completed 50 laps. Behind him Voltteri Bottas ended the day in 18th, half a second slower than his teammate Pastor Maldonado.
The Finn comes into F1 with a lot of expectations and afterwards it was clear that he was taking a methodical approach to his race debut:
“The track improved a lot going into the second session with much more grip, so I felt like the car could still improve further,” he said. “We will analyse all the data tonight and keep working on the car in FP3 to get everything ready for qualifying.”