Vettel on top in season-opening practice

By on Friday, March 15, 2013

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel began his quest for a fourth successive Formula One world title by setting the quickest time in first free practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

The German steered the car he has nicknamed 'Hungry Heidi' around the Melbourne street circuit in one minute 27.211 seconds to finish ahead of the Ferrari duo of Brazilian Felipe Massa (1.27.289) and Spain's Fernando Alonso (1.27.547).

Briton Lewis Hamilton was fourth quickest in his first outing for new team Mercedes, ahead of Vettel's Australian team mate Mark Webber, still searching for his first win in his home race.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen had set the early pace in his Lotus and ensured four former world champions would finish in the top six, while Adrian Sutil made an excellent start on his return to Force India after a year out of the sport by setting the eighth quickest time.

McLaren had a disappointing morning with 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who has won three of the last four Australian Grands Prix, only managing the ninth fastest time and his new team mate, Mexican Sergio Perez, lapping 11th quickest.

Spectators at Albert Park had to wait for more than half an hour of the session before local hope Daniel Ricciardo put the first lap time on the board for Toro Rosso.

There was a further wait before the top drivers joined the fray, spearheaded by Raikkonen who posted the quickest time of the day and then improved it.

By now, all the main title contenders were out on the track where temperatures had reached 38 degrees Celsius, and Alonso swept to the top of the time sheets ahead of Hamilton.

Vettel bettered them both with just his second timed lap and although Massa immediately edged in front, the German shaved another couple of hundredths of a second off his time to reclaim top spot.

The last 10 minutes saw a flurry of activity in the pit lane and on the track but no one was able to go faster than Vettel on the circuit where he won convincingly in 2011 at the start of his second world title triumph.

Massa flirted with danger on a sometimes slippery track and came off into yellow gravel at a corner as he tried to get a little bit more out of his car.

Force India's Paul Di Resta slid off the track more spectacularly at the same spot minutes later but was also able to get back onto the circuit under his own power.

The second free practice session for Sunday's race takes place later in the day with a third before qualifying on Saturday.

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:27.211 16
2 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.289 0.078 17
3 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.547 0.336 16
4 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.552 0.341 18
5 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:27.668 0.457 18
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:27.877 0.666 17
7 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:28.013 0.802 17
8 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:28.426 1.215 19
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.440 1.229 19
10 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:28.520 1.309 15
11 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:28.597 1.386 19
12 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:28.786 1.575 19
13 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:28.910 1.699 18
14 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:29.443 2.232 20
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:29.928 2.717 19
16 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:30.203 2.992 17
17 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:30.729 3.518 17
18 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:30.969 3.758 19
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:31.263 4.052 24
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:32.176 4.965 23
21 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:32.274 5.063 21
22 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:32.388 5.177 18

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