Natalie’s F1 World: Australian Free Practice report

The 2012 Formula 1 season finally kicked off with the first and second free practice sessions for this weekend’s Australian grand prix.

No amount of excitement or expectation however could make the Oz weather play along. Rain showers left the Albert Park circuit wet and most teams huddled in their respective garages. The weather prediction for the rest of the weekend is expected to be sunny; as a result most of the teams were not willing to run the risk of damaging their cars in conditions they would gain little no information out of.

Nevertheless, it provided the opportunity to cast a keen eye on this year’s crop of F1 challengers. As expected 2012 will not go down as the most aesthetically pleasing season in the sport’s history; then again its inside what counts isn’t it? Or in this case, underneath. As the circuit’s racing line dried out so various driver’s emerged from the pitlane to put their machines through its paces.

Despite comparatively few laps being completed with slick tyres there was still several marked performances. Granted we are unaware of the various/different fuel loads run by the teams. Force India, as suggested in pre-season testing, appears to have taken a step forward in terms of long-run pace. The mid-field battle is going to be a fierce contest in 2012 and from what was gleaned from practice this morning Force India seems to be the early frontrunners in what will be an extremely close battle.

Mercedes are undoubtedly in better shape than they found themselves in at this stage twelve months ago. Both Schumacher and Rosberg set several consecutive fastest laps. More importantly both drivers seemed to find a good balance in the car almost immediately – a crucial base which will enable them to build strongly towards qualifying and the race. Similarly, Jenson Button required only a handful of laps to make the MP4-27 talk with the quickest time for the first free practice session.

Contrastingly, the Ferrari appeared to be a real handful to control through the corners; as shown by onboard shots with Fernando Alonso. The F2012 look uncooperative and like a car that will require a firm hand and to be hustled around the circuit in order to be rewarded with a good lap-time.

Over at Lotus Kimi Raikkonen’s E20 had to undergo yet another steering rack change as the Finn reported his displeasure with the power steering system. This problem also lost Raikkonen some testing miles in Barcelona and has again reared its head in Australia. Hopefully it’s last that is heard of a problem that should really be sorted by now.

Red Bull hasn’t revealed their hand yet and it’s unlikely that their true pace will be revealed before qualifying. The common feeling is that the fight between the top teams is much closer than in 2011.

Free Practice 1 Results:

Pos  Driver                Team                   Time               Laps

  1.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1m27.560s            11

 2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes       1m27.805s  + 0.245   14

 3.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes               1m28.235s  + 0.675   17

 4.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                1m28.360s  + 0.800   21

 5.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault       1m28.467s  + 0.907   21

 6.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes               1m28.683s  + 1.123   22

 7.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m28.908s  + 1.348   23

 8.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault       1m29.415s  + 1.855   16

 9.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault          1m29.565s  + 2.005    8

10.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari         1m29.722s  + 2.162   26

11.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault       1m29.790s  + 2.230   21

12.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes   1m29.865s  + 2.305   17

13.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes   1m29.881s  + 2.321   18

14.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault       1m29.953s  + 2.393   21

15.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1m30.124s  + 2.564   22

16.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault          1m30.515s  + 2.955   16

17.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault       1m30.586s  + 3.026   16

18.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                1m30.743s  + 3.183   11

19.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1m31.178s  + 3.618   17

20.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault       1m31.983s  + 4.423    8

21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth      1m34.730s  + 7.170    8

22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth      1m40.256s  + 12.696  11

23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           no time               3

24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth           no time               0

Free Practice 2 Results:

Pos  Driver                Team                    Time               Laps

  1.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes                1m29.183s            16

 2.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes    1m29.292s  +  0.109  19

 3.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari          1m30.199s  +  1.016  23

 4.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                 1m30.341s  +  1.158  13

 5.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari          1m30.709s  +  1.526  14

 6.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes    1m31.466s  +  2.283  13

 7.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari                 1m31.505s  +  2.322  14

 8.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault        1m31.932s  +  2.749  16

 9.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes                1m32.184s  +  3.001  17

10.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault        1m32.194s  +  3.011  19

11.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault        1m32.296s  +  3.113  20

12.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth       1m32.632s  +  3.449  17

13.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault        1m32.767s  +  3.584  15

14.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault           1m32.822s  +  3.639  11

15.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes        1m33.039s  +  3.856  18

16.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes        1m33.252s  +  4.069  11

17.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault        1m34.108s  +  4.925  21

18.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault           1m34.275s  +  5.092   7

19.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault        1m34.312s  +  5.129  17

20.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1m34.485s  +  5.302  29

21.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1m34.604s  +  5.421  31

22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth       1m34.770s  +  5.587  13

23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth            1m42.627s  +  13.444 16

24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth                                  1

Broadcast Times for the rest of the weekend (SA Time):

Practice 3 – Saturday, 05:00am

Qualifying – Saturday, 08:00am

Race – Sunday, 8:00am