2013 Australian GP Practice Two: Sebastian Vettel dominates as Mercedes show speed
Ferrari and Lotus also start promisingly but McLaren off the pace
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 15/03/13 10:17am
Red Bull appear to have picked up where they left off at the end of 2012 after Sebastian Vettel completed a dominant start to the Australian GP in Practice Two - but Mercedes look to have underlined their emergence as a serious new threat to the World Champions.
Having already topped the morning session at Albert Park, Vettel led team-mate Mark Webber by over two tenths of a second in the quicker later session as the field tried out the supersoft tyres for the first time.
The German was a further tenth and a half quicker than the third-fastest fastest runner - Mercedes' Nico Rosberg - and while Red Bull's strong start was undoubtedly ominous, Mercedes new boy Lewis Hamilton's seventh place position was somewhat unrepresentative as he didn't complete a proper run on the supersofts.
The Briton had actually been in the midst of an even quicker lap than Vettel before a lock up at Turn Nine sent him scurrying across the grass, which ruined his one serious try on the red-marked tyres.
But what was nonetheless an undoubtedly promising start to the weekend for the Brackley team ended in unusual, and potentially concerning, fashion as both of their cars stopped out on circuit in the closing minutes in quick succession.
Having just reported a problem with his W04 over the radio, Hamilton ran off the road and nudged a wall before almost simultaneously Rosberg's sister car ground to a halt with a gearbox problem. However, speaking afterwards, Mercedes' new motorsport chief Toto Wolff insisted the issus were "minor".
Ferrari and Lotus also showed plenty of promise on the opening day, even if the former's two drivers ultimately finished further down the order than the first session, but McLaren's early-season struggles appeared to be confirmed by the fact both of their drivers finished outside the top ten.
"For me, it's Red Bull from Ferrari and then closely behind them the Lotus and Mercedes. We can see the McLaren struggling," declared Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle.
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Indeed, McLaren's travails - which were acknowledged by Martin Whitmarsh to Sky F1 during the course of Practice Two - were amplified by the fact they trailed Red Bull by over two seconds by the end of Friday - a world away from where the Woking team ended 2012.
"It's been somewhat of a horror day for McLaren, admitting that they just didn't have the grip in the car, they couldn't find the set-up that worked," reported Sky F1's Ted Kravitz. "Add to that the car is quite difficult to work on because of that revolutionary step they took over the winter, and you have a recipe for a very mixed up message for McLaren: 'yes, we have a car that at the end of the season that is going to be very quick, but we have to take the pain now early into the season knowing that we're really not going to be at our best until we know how to get the speed out of this car.
"So really is it going to be damage limitation for the rest of the weekend."
Many people's not-so-dark 2013 horses Lotus, meanwhile, quietly went about their Friday at Albert Park and ended it with encouraging fourth and fifth places on the timesheets, Kimi Raikkonen three tenths of a second quicker than team-mate Romain Grosjean.
With Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa sixth and eighth respectively for Ferrari, Adrian Sutil (Force India) and Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) rounded out the top ten at the expense of McLaren's Jenson Button.
At the back of the grid, Marussia confirmed their status as one of the winter's key movers by again outpacing Caterham - although Charles Pic managed to split the two MR02s this time - as Giedo van der Garde lost half the session after beaching his CT03 in the gravel.
Practice Two Timesheet:
1. S Vettel, (Ger) Red Bull, 33 laps, 1:25.908.
2. M Webber (Aus) Red Bull, 31, 1.26.173.
3. N Rosberg, (Ger) Mercedes, 26, 1.26.322.
4. K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus, 38, 1.26.361.
5. R Grosjean (Fra) Lotus, 32, 1.26.680.
6. F Alonso (Esp) Ferrari, 35, 1.26.748.
7. L Hamilton, (Gbr) Mercedes, 28, 1.26.772.
8. F Massa, (Brz), Ferrari, 32, 1.26.855.
9. A Sutil, (Ger) Force India, 35, 1.27.435.
10. N Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber, 34, 1.28.187.
11. J Button (Gbr) McLaren, 30, 1:28.294
12. P Di Resta (Gbr) Force India, 37, 1:38.311.
13. S Perez (Mex), McLaren, 33, 1:28.566.
14.D Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso, 31, 1:28.627.
15. E Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber, 33, 1:28.772.
16. P Maldonado (Ven) Williams, 36, 1:28.852.
17. J-E Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso, 36, 1:28.968.
18. V Bottas (Fin) Williams, 39, 1:29.386.
19. J Bianchi (Fra) Marussia, 32, 1:29.696.
20. C Pic (Fra) Caterham, 37, 1:30.165.
21. M Chilton (Gbr) Marussia, 36, 1:30.600.
22. G V-D Garde (Ned) Caterham, 11, 1:32.450.