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2013 Australian GP Practice One: Sebastian Vettel set the early pace in Melbourne

Defending World Champion leads Ferrari drivers in Albert Park

By Mike Wise at Melbourne.   Last Updated: 15/03/13 7:41am

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Sebastian Vettel: Fastest in first practice

Sebastian Vettel: Fastest in first practice

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Defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel set the early pace in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

The Red Bull driver lapped the 5.330km Albert Park track in a time of one minute 27.211 seconds to go 0.078s faster than Ferrari's Felipe Massa. The Brazilian's team-mate, Fernando Alonso, was third fastest ahead of new Mercedes recruit Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber was fifth on the timesheets, with Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Jenson Button (McLaren) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus) completing the top ten.

The session was, of course, the first salvo of the 2013 season after the 'phoney war' of testing. And yet, installation laps aside, there was very little action until halfway through the 90 minutes.

There had already been a support race but Albert Park was clearly still too dusty for the headline act, even given Friday's unofficial status as a test day in its own right.

In truth, little seemed different on the frontrunning cars at least. Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz reported that Ferrari ran different engine covers on Alonso and Massa's F138s while Red Bull had a slightly reprofiled exhaust.

McLaren, meanwhile, had tweaks to the diffuser and floor of their MP4-28 while Mercedes made changes to the rear wing of their W04.

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With the frontrunners all preferring to stay pit-bound, it was backmarkers Marussia, Caterham, together with the backmarker-ish Toro Rosso, whose drivers first set representative lap times.

Raikkonen was the first to dip below the 1:30s barrier with 40 minutes to go and with the leading cars at last breaking cover, the times started to tumble as the track rubbered in.

Both Alonso, then Hamilton and the Red Bull drivers soon went faster than Raikkonen, with Hamilton one of a number of drivers to kick up dust exiting Turn 5.

Vettel set the benchmark time with 20 minutes to go - all drivers lapping on the prime, medium compound Pirelli tyre during the session.

Their supersoft tyre is expected to make its debut at the track during second practice, when teams will also concentrate more on longer runs - giving them the chance to study closer the performance of the compounds.

They are all softer this season, with Pirelli giving them a wider 'operating window' of peak performance. However, they have also been designed to lose performance more quickly than before.

Second practice is due to start at 4.30pm local time (5.30am GMT).

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