Vettel shines as McLaren struggles
Sebastian Vettel has opened the 2013 season with a Friday cleansweep, topping both practice sessions comfortably at Albert Park.
A truck arrived overnight filled with upgrades for his RBR9, which the team went about testing throughout the day – Vettel seeming unperturbed by the modifications being made to his car.
Further down the pit lane, however, McLaren had an afternoon to forget as serious problems in the MP4-28 hampered the day’s running.
Speculation throughout pre-season testing that the largely redesigned McLaren wasn’t up to scratch seem to be proving true, with the team struggling to understand its own new concept.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted that taking the team In a new direction was risky, but believed it would ultimately pay off.
“We felt that if we wanted to have the ability to develop the car between now and the end of this season, we needed to make some changes,” said Whitmarsh.
“There’s a degree of risk In that, that’s a judgement we made.
“We still believe we’ve got a platform we can develop, [but it’s] a platform we don’t know as well as the one we’ve left.
“We’ll see later whether we’re right or wrong.”
Inversely, Mercedes started Friday with promising pace, going some way to suggesting the pre-season hype surrounding its car may prove to be true.
Both Hamilton and Rosberg set top ten times in FP1 and FP2, with the 2013-spec car looking particularly poised mid-corner, and both drivers’ confident use of the throttle.
However, the day ended dramatically with both cars withdrawing early from second practice within minutes of each other, but with unrelated problems.
Rosberg stopped his car on-track with a suspected gearbox issue, while Hamilton ploughed into the grass with a suspected brake failure.
Meanwhile, concerns about tyre degradation found their way back to the top of the agenda, with wear on heavy fuel runs proving greater than expected.
The second Barcelona test demonstrated Pirelli’s immense tyre wear in cold temperatures, and team principals are worried Melbourne’s changeable weather conditions will prove a nightmare for tyre wear.
With little useful tyre data available from the pre-season, teams will scrabble to hone their setups in the final hour of practice tomorrow before qualifying in the afternoon.
Practice resumes tomorrow at 2PM.