Jenson Button and his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton dominated Friday afternoon's second free practice session for Sunday's 2011 Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix.
Button, who won the race for Brawn in 2009 and then for McLaren in 2010, will be chasing a hat-trick on Sunday while Hamilton, victorious here in 2008, will bid to end Button’s streak.
Button’s best lap of 1:25.854 was almost a second faster than the one that took Mark Webber’s Red Bull to the top in the opening free practice session.
Two-times champion Fernando Alonso was third-quickest for Ferrari ahead of defending champion Sebastian Vettel and Webber in the two Red Bull cars, with Michael Schumacher sixth for Mercedes.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was seventh in the second Ferrari with Mexican new boy Sergio Perez, 21, marking his first full day at a Grand Prix for the Sauber team with a strong showing, winding up eighth.
That meant he was one place ahead of Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, 38, of Williams, a veteran of 307 races, while German Nico Rosberg made up the top 10 in the second Mercedes.
The new DRS (Drag Reduction System) was tested in race mode during the 90 minutes and also briefly disabled towards the end of a session that ended in light rain.
As the teams set about testing the durability of the new Pirelli tyres Button, one of the best preservers of tyres and an astute tactician, swept to the top with a lap in 1:26.706 after 35 minutes, the quickest lap of the weekend to that point, before Schumacher, on Pirelli’s softer option rubber, took over.
The McLarens went clear again in the closing stages when Button went a tenth clear of Hamilton. Ominously the top five – last year’s ‘Big Five’ title contenders – were seven-tenths clear of the chasing Schumacher.
For the ultra-methodical McLaren team, it was a successful test of the durability of a revised exhaust system, floor and front wing as they flexed their muscles for a 2011 title challenge.
For the struggling Hispania team, at the other end of pit lane, it was a very different story as they toiled to build their new untested cars in time to run.
Finally, after a race against the clock, Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi emerged to turn a single installation lap with two minutes remaining. "For us, to be honest, it is very difficult," said team-mate Indian Narain Karthikeyan. "And parts for the cars are still arriving from Europe."