• Australian Grand Prix - FP1

Button leads McLaren 1-2 in damp first practice

ESPNF1 Staff
March 16, 2012
Jenson Button set the fastest time during the first practice session of the year © Getty Images

McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton led the way in first practice at the Australian Grand Prix after a wet/dry session kicked off the season at Albert Park.

Michael Schumacher was third fastest in the Mercedes, with his new DRS-activated F-duct aiding top speed, ahead of Fernando Alonso in the still unpredictable Ferrari. Mark Webber was the fastest Red Bull in fifth fastest while reigning champion Sebastian Vettel kept his cards close to his chest with just the 11th quickest time.

All the drivers made a cautious start as rain fell during the first half hour and an oily patch, left by some leaky historics during a support session, added to the fun at turn four. With 40 minutes remaining the Sauber drivers started to venture out on slick tyres and when Kamui Kobayashi set a new fastest time the others were quick to follow.

Mercedes held the top two positions initially, but when McLaren got up to speed Button and Hamilton displaced Schumacher and Nico Rosberg with most of their advantage found in sector one. However, the first session is seldom a true indication of how the weekend will pan out and none of the drivers used the softer compound Pirellis yet.

Nevertheless, there were promising signs from Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso, Pastor Maldonado in the Williams and Kobayashi in the mostly-sideways Sauber, who all set a top-ten time. Kimi Raikkonen had limited running as after some cautious installation laps the Finn said he was unhappy with the feeling of his steering and Lotus spent most of the session replacing his steering column. He returned to the track with less than 10 minutes remaining but still set the ninth fastest time.

Felipe Massa was the first driver to find the gravel this year after losing the rear of his Ferrari under braking into turn nine. It was a sloppy driver error as Massa, who is under intense pressure this year, touched the grass on turn-in and spun through 180 degrees. With the car beached in the gravel his session came to an end with ten minutes remaining on the clock.

HRT completed very limited running in its new car after Narain Karthikeyan stopped on track with an engine problem. Pedro de la Rosa didn't even make it onto the circuit as his car was still being built after passing scrutineering just a few hours before the session.

The second practice session, set to get underway 17.30 local time, should give a better indication of who's hot and who's not as the drivers start to use soft tyres on what will hopefully be a dry track.