Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton have topped the first two practice sessions in Australia.
It was a busy start to the new Formula One season as teams shook down their cars in race trim for the first time. Alonso got the action going as the first car out on track in Free Practice One as a number of teams continued working on their cars to get them track ready, including reigning world champions Red Bull. It was Hamilton who suffered the first breakdown, however, when his Mercedes ground to a halt due to a sensor problem. As a result he got no running in the first practice session, but completed 37 laps in Free Practice Two on his way to the fastest lap time.
It was a disastrous start to the weekend for Lotus and Caterham, who between them managed 17 laps over two practice sessions. “This morning it was an electrical issue with the engine that meant I only did one lap,” rookie Marcus Ericsson revealed. “In the afternoon we were back out at the start of FP2 but this time, when I boxed, there was a hydraulics leak.” Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi had an equally difficult day. “The problem on my car was to do with the fuel system,” he said. “It was fine on the installation lap but when I boxed we had a small fire under the engine cover which came from a fuel system leak. The fire was out immediately but when we’d found the problem we knew it couldn’t be fixed in time to run in FP2 so made the decision to remove the power unit so we could fix the issue and aim to run properly tomorrow.” It was a similar story for Lotus, who were delayed getting their cars out on track for FP1, with Pastor Maldonado returning to the pits with a smoking cockpit. “We experienced quite a few issues today,” Technical Director Nick Chester said. “We were delayed getting Romain’s car out in the first session due to a gearbox fluid leak whilst Pastor had an electrical problem. Part of Pastor’s issue was related to the wiring loom, which we needed to replace. The looms are so complex… that this meant Pastor missed the second session.”
For other teams, however, it was a much more positive start. For Red Bull in particular there were signs of a vast improvement from pre-season testing. They had a successful, reliable run (despite the delay to getting Sebastian Vettel’s car out in FP1), with Vettel describing it as a “relief” to actually get some running under his belt. McLaren had a solid day’s work, with new recruit Kevin Magnussen getting himself accustomed to the track and finishing both sessions solidly in the top ten. Jenson Button reckons the car still has a little way to go, and that McLaren – and other teams – could find themselves as much as a second off the pact of early front-runners Mercedes. Other teams with reliable running included Williams, Ferrari, and Force India. Marussia and Sauber had some difficulties, as did Toro Rosso. But as was to be expected with a new season and so many regulation changes, there were hiccups for everyone and it wasn’t plain sailing. A number of drivers struggled with the cars as they arrived in corners and left them, some spinning and others running wide. Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg ended their FP2 sessions beached in the gravel.
It is widely expected that a number of drivers could choose to complete no more than an installation lap in FP3 due to the risk of damaging the car before qualifying. As the cars are now so complex, they take a lot longer to put together and fix so a FP3 problem could prove very costly. Hamilton’s fastest time in practice today – a 1:29.625 was a tenth faster than team-mate Rosberg, and five seconds better than Alonso could manage in third. It is just over two seconds slower than Vettel’s 2013 pole position lap time. A full run down of practice results can be found here.