F1: Round 1 – Melbourne, Australia – Practice

You can do all the off-season testing you like, and have experts pour over the stats with their crystal balls, but it all means very little – until the entire F1 field arrives at the first venue and does the first all-driver testing session at an actual F1 circuit. It’s at that point when you know for sure whether there’s going to be a massive upset, or whether it’s business as usual for the season ahead.

Short answer: this is not business as usual. Not by a helluva long way.

McLaren haven’t – as some suspected – been sandbagging. Their season-start for really does look to be little short of a catastrophe. Heikki Kovalainen did manage to end up in 5th place in first practice, but Lewis Hamilton was back down in 16th and things got even worse for them in the afternoon. A lack of basic pace and a lack of grip make for the worst case scenario for the team.

So does it leave the way open for Ferrari? Not at all. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were a reasonable 3rd and 7th respectively in the morning, but then Massa came 10th and Raikkonen 11th in the afternoon. That means that on current showing, we’d be lucky to get any cars from either McLaren of Ferrari into the final qualifying shoot-out session on Saturday. Even Fernando Alonso – who had been fancied to do well as the top teams faltered – could manage no better than 12th.

Instead it was Nico Rosberh who set the cat among the proverbial pigeons by topping both sessions in the Williams. And the Brawn drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello – while not being as clearly fast as many thought they would be – still showed impressive speed in both sessions.

It’s astonishing that the top runners in the second session should comprise a Williams, a Brawn, a Toyota, a Red Bull – and even a Force India in 9th place with their Mercedes engines doing a better job than McLaren’s. Truly, these are strange and interesting times, and the form book just flew out the window.

In F1 terms, 2008 is just SO last century.

First practice

It was a quiet start to F1 2009, with almost no running at all other than installation laps in the first 30 minutes and some acclimatisation running for this year’s only rookie Sebastien Buemi. Perhaps the teams are wary of the new rules that allow just 8 engines through the season’s 17 events and are having to put engine conservation first and foremost, even on the first day of school.

Lewis Hamilton was one of several high profile drivers to run-off track during the session. Other incidents included a spin for Nelson Piquet at Turn 1 and a puncture for Nakajima, while Sebastian Vettel stopped early-on on-track with a hydraulic problem on his Red Bull.

Pos  Driver       Team                      Time              Laps
 1.  Rosberg      Williams-Toyota       (B) 1:26.687           19
 2.  Nakajima     Williams-Toyota       (B) 1:26.736 + 0.049   21
 3.  Raikkonen    Ferrari               (B) 1:26.750 + 0.063   24
 4.  Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes        (B) 1:27.226 + 0.539   21
 5.  Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes      (B) 1:27.453 + 0.766   15
 6.  Button       Brawn-Mercedes        (B) 1:27.467 + 0.780   12
 7.  Massa        Ferrari               (B) 1:27.642 + 0.955   24
 8.  Glock        Toyota                (B) 1:27.710 + 1.023   24
 9.  Sutil        Force India-Mercedes  (B) 1:27.993 + 1.306   20
10.  Alonso       Renault               (B) 1:28.123 + 1.436   16
11.  Heidfeld     BMW Sauber            (B) 1:28.137 + 1.450   20
12.  Trulli       Toyota                (B) 1:28.142 + 1.455   21
13.  Kubica       BMW Sauber            (B) 1:28.511 + 1.824   22
14.  Fisichella   Force India-Mercedes  (B) 1:28.603 + 1.916   16
15.  Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B) 1:28.785 + 2.098   27
16.  Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes      (B) 1:29.042 + 2.355   18
17.  Webber       Red Bull-Renault      (B) 1:29.081 + 2.394    7
18.  Piquet       Renault               (B) 1:29.461 + 2.774   25
19.  Bourdais     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B) 1:29.499 + 2.812   21
20.  Vettel       Red Bull-Renault      (B) 1:32.784 + 6.097    4

Second practice

It was a busy second session in terms of laps as the teams began to get their new cars into the groove.

Sebastian Vettel spun trying to match his team mate Mark Webber’s impressive after putting a wheel on the grass under braking for Turn 4. For the second time today, Vettel was the only man not to complete the session. Felipe Massa looked to be struggling under braking in the Ferrari, running off track on more than one occasion like his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Pos  Driver       Team                       Time              Laps
 1.  Rosberg      Williams-Toyota       (B)  1:26.053            36
 2.  Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes        (B)  1:26.157  + 0.104   38
 3.  Trulli       Toyota                (B)  1:26.350  + 0.297   42
 4.  Webber       Red Bull-Renault      (B)  1:26.370  + 0.317   30
 5.  Button       Brawn-Mercedes        (B)  1:26.374  + 0.321   38
 6.  Glock        Toyota                (B)  1:26.443  + 0.390   42
 7.  Nakajima     Williams-Toyota       (B)  1:26.560  + 0.507   33
 8.  Vettel       Red Bull-Renault      (B)  1:26.740  + 0.687   19
 9.  Sutil        Force India-Mercedes  (B)  1:27.040  + 0.987   29
10.  Massa        Ferrari               (B)  1:27.064  + 1.011   35
11.  Raikkonen    Ferrari               (B)  1:27.204  + 1.151   32
12.  Alonso       Renault               (B)  1:27.232  + 1.179   28
13.  Fisichella   Force India-Mercedes  (B)  1:27.282  + 1.229   32
14.  Heidfeld     BMW-Sauber            (B)  1:27.317  + 1.264   34
15.  Kubica       BMW-Sauber            (B)  1:27.398  + 1.345   36
16.  Bourdais     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)  1:27.479  + 1.426   36
17.  Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  1:27.802  + 1.749   35
18.  Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  1:27.813  + 1.760   31
19.  Piquet       Renault               (B)  1:27.828  + 1.775   35
20.  Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)  1:28.076  + 2.023   33
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