The first two practice sessions of the year got underway this morning in Melbourne, Australia. The Albert Park Circuit played host to where essentially extensions to winter testing. Though the teams and drivers spent 12 days in Bahrain and Jerez figuring out whether their cars were up to scratch, a few teams, namely Lotus and Red Bull left with very little in the way of actual data.
In session 1, Red Bull managed a good amount of laps through Daniel Ricciardo, although Sebastian Vettel was rarely seen, surfacing for a solitary installation lap half way through the session, and then putting in 5-in-a-row at around the hour mark. Lotus didn’t seem to have much more success than in testing either, with Grosjean not even making it out on track, and Maldonado completing one ill-fated installation lap. The Venezuelan emerged with 30 minutes to go, but after a slow out lap, he slithered hopelessly wide at turn 13. Smoke was seen coming from his cockpit, and before pit entry, whether it was driver-enduced or not, his engine cut out, and he had to be pushed back to the garage for examination.
Several drivers had off moments, with Toro Rosso leading the way in terms of number of excursions, amassing a total of 4. New boy Daniil Kvyat had a pair of identical trips through the gravel at Turn 1, as the Toro Rosso STR9 struggled to get to grips with its new electronic braking system. The most significant gravel tour was that of Vergne though. Not content with doing exactly what Kvyat did at turn 1, he went right into the run-off area at Turn 3, barely getting the brakes on in time to avoid the wall. On a happier note for the Frenchman, he managed to notch the most laps in the session, with 30.
Other drivers to spin and/or go wide included Perez in his Force India, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Chilton, who hit a trolley in the pit lane.
Alonso had the fastest time, with a 1:31:840. Second in the rankings went to Jenson Button in his McLaren, posting a 1:32:357. The Williams drivers completed the top 4, with Bottas putting in a stellar lap of 1:32:403, squeezing past his team mate Felipé Massa’s fastest time of 1:32:431 right at the end of the session. World Champion Sebastian Vettel managed 7th place with a time of 1:32:783, but one of the strongest drivers in testing, Lewis Hamilton, was not able to put in a time due to a sensor malfunction that caused the engine to switch off. Other drivers not to complete a lap were Kobayashi, Ericsson, Maldonado, and Grosjean, who was the only car not to turn a wheel.
The second session got underway just after 5pm local time in Melbourne, and while the light level faded, the interest did not. Both Caterhams were sidelined, due to parts of the power unit needing replacing in both Kobayashi and Ericsson’s cars. Maldonado did not participate either, due to a component fire in the the first session.
There were several more slides throughout the session, with jean-Eric Vergne re-acquainting with the gravel at turn 3, and Daniil Kvyat doing likewise with the gravel at turn 13. Both drivers simply shrugged off the incidents, but with just five minutes to go in the session, the gravel traps claimed bigger scalps; namely Grosjean and Hulkenberg. The latter of the two touched the grass on the entry to turn 9 and beached his car. Almost simultaneously Grosjean hurtled towards turn 3, but under braking, veered left and clipped the wall, damaging the rear-left suspension and some advertising boards in the process.
Lewis Hamilton topped the timing sheet with a time of 1:29:625, barely 2 seconds off last year’s pole position time, showing that the cars have not lost much in terms of performance compared to last season’s formula. Lewis’ team mate Nico Rosberg was next, posting a fastest lap of 1:29:782. Half a second down from Hamilton was Fernando Alonso, and with 1st and 3rd in the two sessions, he has plenty to smile about.
Red Bull looked to have made vast improvements over the first session and their problems in testing, with Vettel less than a second off Hamilton’s time, and Ricciardo a little further off in 6th place. They sandwiched McLaren’s 5th-placed Jenson Button, who is also looking strong. Williams did not place as highly in session 2 as they did in the first, due to heavier fuel loads.
Hamilton’s bounce back from the annoying sensor malfunction in FP1 seemed to indicate the German team’s superiority as it seemed in testing, and with a 1-2 on the time sheet in FP2, the team will be confident looking towards tomorrow’s qualifying. “Going into [Practice] session 2 I felt really uncomfortable…but fortunately I was able to get right back to speed” Hamilton commented on his FP1 setback. (Source: Sky)