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Trying To Find The Direction



31 MAR - 03 APR 2016

Tim Collings weighs up the reactions to the first day of the new era ahead of Sunday’s 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton led Formula One's journey into the unknown territory of a 'high tech' new era on Friday with the first breakdown and fastest lap of an intriguing day at Albert Park.

Then, despite having been stopped and questioned by a zealous security guard at the paddock gates, he stepped out in front of the jostling cameras to declare himself as 'comfortable' after outpacing team-mate German Nico Rosberg on an afternoon of Mercedes mastery.

"To miss the first session is kind of unusual," said Hamilton. "I didn’t even get round half a lap. I had to stop. It’s a shame because there was the 10-15 minutes when no one was running and they could easily have brought the car back. I felt I was really on the back foot, but I got up to pace quite quickly and found the balance relatively fast as well, so I feel positive."

The 2008 World Champion's performance summed things up neatly, but he knows as well as anyone that one day's work means little at the start of a new season -- and that Friday practice positions can be a notoriously poor guide to what happens in Saturday's qualifying session.

The proximity of two-time champion Fernando Alonso, third for Ferrari, and defending four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull, who was fourth ahead of Jenson Button's McLaren and Dan Ricciardo confirmed that danger.

One man who stayed in the shade as others shone in the sun was the sport's sole Brazilian contender this year, Felipe Massa, newly installed at Williams after eight roller-coaster years at Ferrari. Many have tipped him as a contender for his 12th career victory in Sunday's race.

He ended the day in 12th place on the time-sheets, four behind Williams team-mate Finn Valtteri Bottas, but both posted top five times earlier in the session and only dropped away after switching their attention to longer, race simulation, runs in the closing stages.

“I was just trying to understand everything around the set-up and trying to find the direction for tomorrow,” said Massa. "That was our focus for and there is definitely a lot more to come. I think what we learned in testing puts us in a good position regarding set-up.... I hope so anyway!

"It's the first day and there is still a lot to happen over the weekend, but it wasn't really a bad day... I think we have to believe that we have the momentum for a strong result."

A Massa success in his 192nd Grand Prix on Sunday would be a popular result. He is a widely-liked man and there is a widespread soft spot for the independent British team that has embraced his Latin temperament and family values.

"I am really happy to be with Williams," he said. "I have really enjoyed the working with them up to now, to feel that and the car and the working we do... It has been a very difficult time for them in the last few years and there is a lot to do, development, inside the factory, inside the team.

"Many new people are arriving, including me, but I am motivated. And, for sure, we can be there. I feel the team, too, is really motivated. They want to grow and get back to the good times. I feel a lot of understanding for the people and they are really professional.

"It is similar working with the car. The working is the same, but not the talking. They are much more quiet. You know... The Italians, they cannot talk without shaking their hands and, well, I am like that because I am from Brazil! So, for sure, it's a big change for me and I am trying to learn quickly. But it is a nice experience and I hope we can do some really special things."

Confounding some critics and steering Williams back towards a podium finish would certainly be a good start.

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