Button and Hamilton set pace in Australian GP practice
McLaren's Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton lead the way in practice for the Australian Grand Prix
McLaren appeared to be over their pre-season reliability issues as Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton stormed to the top of the time sheets in practice for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
World champions Red Bull had laid down the gauntlet in the first session ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel traded quickest times.
Webber’s late run trumped the world champion with a time of 1m26.831, with closest rival Fernando Alonso in third nine tenths off the pace.
The McLaren duo were a further six tenths behind as Hamilton and Button used the session to get to grips with changes to the MP4-26 following their failings during pre-season.
McLaren radically revised their car following the final pre-season test in Barcelona with the team hoping the major unscheduled upgrade would improve their reliability.
While the top five in the first session were separated by almost two seconds, in the second session the top five were split by just 0.4s with Alonso ahead of the Red Bull drivers.
Button and Hamilton traded quickest times as they smashed into the 1m25s, with Button coming out on top with a 1m25.854 on the soft tyre – almost one second quicker than Webber’s time in the first session on the harder compound.
“Reliability something we’ve not had all winter, so to have a car that runs for as many laps as we want it to is very satisfying,” Button said.
“It also means we can get stuck into our set-up work and improve the car. I don’t think there’s much to be gained from looking at today’s times though, so I’m not going to get too carried away.
“The new exhaust has definitely brought performance to the car-it feels much better, makes the handling more Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcomplete’. When you have downforce at the rear, you can also add it at the front, and then you put temperature in the tyres-there’s so much that comes with downforce.”
Mercedes also looked competitive in both sessions with Nico Rosberg winning the battle with team-mate Michael Schumacher in the first session, before the seven-time world champion came out on top in the second to take sixth.
Felipe Massa was seventh quickest ahead of Sauber rookie Sergio Perez, Rubens Barrichello, and Nico Rosberg who rounded out the top 10 1.6s slower than Button.
Paul di Resta finished 16th quickest on his debut for Force India – 0.207s quicker than team-mate Adrian Sutil (2.5s slower than Button) in the second session after third driver Nico HÃƒÂ¼lkenberg had taken his car for the first session.
Team Lotus had an early disappointment as recently-appointed reserve driver Karun Chandhok collided with a wall coming out of turn three just seconds into the session.
Mechanics were able to repair the car for the second session allowing Jarno Trulli to get a run out, but both he and team-mate Heikki Kovalainen struggled to show they had improved on 2010 with Kovalainen suffering an electronics issue early in the second session, with Kovalainen insisting there is more to come from the T128.
Virgin Racing are in danger of missing the 107 per cent qualifying cut-off after a poor showing in practice, something that is unlikely to be resolved by Saturday afternoon. The team’s only hope of qualifying is if the top teams run harder compounds in Q1, with Virgin running the quicker softer compound.
Hispania Racing could also fail to qualify for the race after their practice consisted of a solitary exploratory lap with Tonio Liuzzi at the second session after the team’s engineers and mechanics raced to put a car together.
Hispania team principal Colin Kolles insists that the struggling Spanish team will be able to run both cars on Saturday ahead of qualifying, and the team have already used one of their four permitted exceptions to work on the car ahead of the first practice session.
Qualifying for the race starts at 0600 GMT on Saturday.