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Friday preview: the wait is over

The 2011 Formula One season officially kicks off on Friday in Melbourne – and everyone at Albert Park, from drivers to fans, couldn’t be happier

by Matthew Clayton

Mark Webber was referring to the 24 Formula One drivers here in Melbourne this weekend, but he may as well have been speaking for the rest of us. “We now just want to get into it,” said Webber on Thursday, and finally, 130 days after the finale to last season in Abu Dhabi, the 2011 Formula One season will kick off on Friday at Albert Park.

Team Talk - Mercedes GP

Mercedes

Constructors’ championship 2010: 4th

Mercedes GP team principal Ross Brawn admitted his team was a second off the front-running pace of Red Bull and Ferrari heading into the last test of the off-season, so eyebrows were raised when Michael Schumacher took the heavily-revised MGP W02 to the top of the Barcelona timesheets two weeks ago.

Nailing the perfect lap

Want to know where best to see an F1 car in full flight at Albert Park? Mark Webber gives us the inside line

by Matthew Clayton

Whether you’re a first-time fan or a regular visitor to the Australian Grand Prix, there’s nothing like a little inside knowledge to make your viewing experience more memorable.

Here’s our guide to the best of the 16-turn, 5.303km street circuit that will host the opening Grand Prix of 2011 – and a look at what the drivers experience thanks to Aussie star Mark Webber.

Team Talk - Vodafone McLaren

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Constructors’ championship 2010: 2nd  

It seems hard to believe, but McLaren have not won the constructors’ title since 1998. Initiators of the F-duct which spread through pit lane like a rash last season, they might have been in contention right till the end if Jenson Button had managed to maintain the form that brought him two victories in the first four races.

F1 Practice 1: Webber fires first shot

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.

Team Talk - Ferrari

Ferrari 

Constructors' Championship 2010: 3rd

Last season ended ignominiously for the scarlet Scuderia, which cost chief race engineer Australian Chris Dyer his job following a strategic failure at the final Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Fernando Alonso's bid for a maiden title with Ferrari perished as he scrabbled in midfield.

Dyer's place has been filled by the recruitment of former Red Bull strategy man Neil Martin from champions Red Bull and former McLaren expert Pat Fry.

Button Best as Big 5 Bully Rest

McLaren-Mercedes driver Jenson Button has topped the second free practice session for Sunday’s 2011 Formula 1 Qantas Australian Grand Prix as last year’s ‘Big Five’ drivers dominated proceedings at a gloomy and occasionally wet Albert Park.

Button and team-mate Lewis Hamilton finished 1-2 ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull pairing Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, with a seven-tenths of a second gap to next man Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes.

And HRT finally got one car onto a race track…

Full session report follows…

Button Back on Top at Albert Park

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.

Glass half-full for bullish Button

McLaren star optimistic that he can add to his back-to-back wins at Albert Park thanks to approach taken by his team

by Matthew Clayton

McLaren’s Jenson Button has backed the aggressive approach taken by his team as it attempts to turn around its lacklustre pre-season testing form.

The 2009 World Champion said on Thursday that a new exhaust system brought to Albert Park this weekend was the right way for McLaren to address a worrying lack of speed and reliability over the last two months.

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