PUSHING THROUGH: Mercedes driver and pre-season favourite Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap during the second free practice session ahead of the 2014 Australian GP on Sunday after battling gremlins in round one. Image: AFP
MELBOURNE, Australia - Lewis Hamilton - gave some credibility to the hype surrounding Mercedes by posting the fastest time in Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix, as the Formula 1 season kicked off with teams still struggling with reliability problems.
The 2008 World champion could not finish a lap in the first session due to an oil-pressure sensor problem but topped the time sheets in the second with a lap of 1min29.625sec on a glorious sunny day at Albert Park.
Hamilton's quickest time edged out team mate Nico Rosberg by less than 0.157sec as the pace of the two Mercedes' drivers carried on from their promising performances in winter testing.
Teams struggled to come to terms with the new turbocharged engines during the pre-season tests and continued to battle glitches during practice, with drivers cooling their heels for long stretches in the garages, as technicians frantically tinkered.
Excursions on to the track saw several battle to handle the extra torque and reduced downforce of the new V6 power units, with plenty of over-steering at corners and slides onto the grass. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso handled conditions better than most, posting the quickest lap of 1min31.840 in the first session and finishing third-fastest in the second.
Reigning quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel battled a couple of nervy skids, hitting the grass at one point in the later session, but finished an encouraging fourth, having endured dismal winter testing with Red Bull.
Vettel’s new team mateDaniel Ricciardo finished sixth fastest after putting some decent mileage into the car, with the Red Bull drivers sandwiching McLaren's Jenson Button in fifth place.
Kimi Raikonnen, in his first drive since returning to Ferrari, was forced to roll back into the garage after an aborted start at the exit from the pits but re-emerged to post the seventh-fastest time.
Hamilton was earlier left fuming when his car stopped at turn nine of his installation lap just five minutes into the first session. Mercedes later issued a statement saying they had fixed a "calibration" problem with an oil-pressure sensor that triggered the engine's halt.
McLaren's Kevin Magnussen enjoyed the most positive day out of the three F1 rookies, posting the ninth-fastest time insecond practice, but Caterham's Marcus Ericsson was unable to post a lap.
Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi's F1 return with Caterham was also forgettable: he didn't post a time in the first session and had to sit out the second as engineers worked on a fuel system problem.
2014 Australian F1 GP
1 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min29.625
2 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min29.782
3 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1min30.132
4 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull - Renault 1min30.381
5 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min30.510
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull - Renault 1min30.538
7 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min30.898
8 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 1min30.920
9 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) McLaren 1min31.031
10 Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India - Mercedes 1min31.054
11 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - Renault 1min31.060
12 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes 1min31.119
13 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - Mercedes 1min31.283
14 Adrian Sutil (Germany) Sauber - Ferrari 1min32.355
15 Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber - Ferrari 1min32.468
16 Danill Kvyat (Russia) Toro Rosso - Renault 1min32.495
17 Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia - Ferrari 1min33.486
18 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - Renault 1min33.646
19 Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia - Ferrari 1min34.757
20 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Caterham - Renault
21 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Caterham - Renault
22 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus – Renault
Stay with Wheels24 for the first race of the 2014 F1 season in Melbourne.