Red Bull’s Mark Webber leaves it late to top the timesheets in the first practice session for the 2011 F1 season
by Matthew Clayton
Mark Webber has started the preparations for his home race in the best possible style, topping the timesheets in first practice at the Qantas Australian Grand Prix on Friday.
The 34-year-old Australian recorded his personal best of 1min 26.831secs on his 20th and final lap of the 90-minute session, beating teammate and reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel by 0.327secs.
The Red Bull duo were in a class of their own for much of the session, with third-placed Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) the only driver to lap within a second of Webber’s benchmark time. The Spaniard was nine-tenths of a second slower than Webber, while Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg in fourth was 1.321secs adrift of the Australian.
Williams veteran Rubens Barrichellowas fifth, while McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were sixth and seventh as they tested a new exhaust system brought to Albert Park by the team this weekend.
Four-time Melbourne winner Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Renault’s Vitaly Petrov rounded out the top 10.
The first practice session of the new F1 season started in cool and overcast conditions, and Lotus reserve driver Karun Chandhok was the first driver to emerge on circuit. The Indian didn’t last long however, crashing at Turn 3 on his first flying lap after just two minutes, and he took no further part.
The session was nearly 40 minutes old before Ferrari’s Felipe Massa set the first timed lap, and Webber soon took over at the top to show Red Bull’s raw pace. Vettel then grabbed top spot with 32 minutes to go and didn’t look like relinquishing it until Webber’s last-gasp lap struck an important psychological blow in what will be a fierce intra-team rivalry this season.
Webber’s compatriot, Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo, was 16th in his maiden Formula One practice session for Scuderia Toro Rosso. The 21-year-old, who will compete in Friday practice at every Grand Prix weekend this season, replaced Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari for the session.
His best lap of 1:29.468 was 2.637secs off Webber’s time. In the sister Toro Rosso entry, Switzerland’s Sebastien Buemi was 14th, just under two-tenths of a second faster. Ricciardo and Chandhok, who replaced Italian Jarno Trulli for the opening session at Lotus, were two of the three reserve drivers to get track time at Albert Park in the first session.
German Nico Hulkenberg replaced Scot Paul di Resta at Force India for the opening practice of the year, but finished in a lowly 18th place.
A second 90-minute session for Formula One will take place at 4.30pm this afternoon.