March 15th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - There seems to be no stopping the combination of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, after the World Champion driver and team led the way in first and second practice for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. And, ominously, it looks like there is more to come from Vettel, who set the fastest time of the day on his second flying lap on supersoft tyres, after being held up in the final sector of his first lap. Webber was second fastest in FP2 in the second Red Bull, followed by Nico Rosberg, whose Mercedes looked quick until it came to a halt at the side of the track.
After a relatively quiet FP1 session, the 90-minute second session saw a flurry of activity. All of the teams had done their basic preparatory work in the first session, and were keen to get on with the business of working on setups. Both tyre compounds were used by all of the teams, starting with the medium compound prime tyre and then moving onto the supersoft option tyre. Pirelli's Paul Hembery expected to see a performance difference of 1 to 1.2 seconds between the tyre compounds, and his prediction proved to be largely correct. At the front of the field, the performance difference ranged from around six tenths to 1.1 seconds, depending on traffic and fuel loads. It is already quite clear that the option tyre will be the only sensible choice for qualifying. Anyone attempting to qualify on the prime tyre will have a lot of cars to pass on Sunday.
The basic format of the session was: long runs on the prime tyres followed by low fuel option tyre runs. Then the cars were fuelled for long runs on the option tyres, and those who had the tyres and time towards the end of the session carried out some back-to-back high-fuel comparisons between the two tyre compounds.
In terms of the times, that meant the quickest laps were done towards the end of the first hour, and thereafter not much changed in the running order. The last half hour was all about testing the option tyres to see how long they would last on heavy fuel loads. Ferrari test driver Pedro de la Rosa predicted eight to ten laps, based on the data gathered in testing. The teams today saw a similar number of laps, with a fairly heavy drop-off in performance in the last few laps. Red Bull seemed to extract good performance without wearing their tyres too much, particularly in the hands of Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari were a bit harder on their tyres, but the good news for the Italian team is they seem to be wearing evenly around the car, suggesting a good balance in the base setup.
From the start of the second practice session, it was clear that the drivers were pushing hard, with many running wide, fighting oversteer, and one or two running off the track altogether. The first driver to have a session cut short by an incident in 2013 was Caterham's rookie Giedo van der Garde, who locked up his rear tyres under braking for turn 3, ran onto the gravel and was unable to recover when the anti-stall kicked in and prevented him from keeping the car going through the gravel trap. He lost out on a full hour of the session, which will hurt his preparation for the race, particularly as tomorrow's practice session is expected to be wet, meaning his dry running before qualifying is likely over.
Jean-Eric Vergne had a spin on the entry to turn 4, when he put his right-hand tyres on the grass before turning in. He found himself facing the wrong way, but was fortunate to be on tarmac rather than gravel and managed to rejoin and carry on. Lewis Hamilton was not so fortunate, and went off in turn 6, coming to rest close to the barrier at the edge of the gravel trap. Moments later, his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg stopped on the exit of turn 12 with a gearbox problem he had been nursing throughout the session. The final spinner of the day was Mark Webber, who lost the back end of his Red Bull on the exit of turn 13 and slid to a halt facing the inside wall of the track, but managed to get going again and continued circulating.
The times in FP2 split the field broadly into the top four teams, and the rest. Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus all look competitive, and all set times within a second of Vettel's benchmark. The Force India combination of Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg led the way for the rest of the field, but Sutil was over a second and a half slower than Vettel. Everyone from 10th (Hulkenberg) to 16th (Maldonado) was over two seconds off the pace, with the gaps increasing further down the field.
The big disappointment of the weekend continues to be Mclaren. Jenson Button was over two seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel in FP2, with his team-mate Sergio Perez a further quarter of a second back in 13th place. McLaren felt the need to make weight distribution changes during the session, indicating that they are having difficulty finding anything resembling a handling balance on their cars. The surprise package, aside from a fairly resurgent Mercedes, is Marussia, who seem to have a more competitive car than Caterham. Jules Bianchi was half a second quicker than Charles Pic and only three tenths off the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, suggesting that Marussia have started the season on the right foot.
Full results from FP2:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:25.908||33|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:26.172||0.264||31|
|9||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:27.435||1.527||35|
|12||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:28.311||2.403||37|
|22||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:32.450||6.542||11|