Sport : F1

JENSON BUTTON SETS THE PACE

16th March 2012, 10:54pm

Jenson Button: Fastest time of the day in his McLaren

Jenson Button: Fastest time of the day in his McLaren

Jenson Button was quickest but two practice sessions for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix provided few clues as to who will take the chequered flag on Sunday.

The Formula One fraternity was none the wiser after three hours of on-track activity at Melbourne's Albert Park where rain added to the uncertainty of the first weekend of the campaign.

Following a damp start to the first 90-minute session, it ended with a dry track and under predominantly blue skies and McLaren scoring a one-two with British drivers Button and Lewis Hamilton.

Button's time of one minute 27.560 seconds remained the best of the day, however, as torrential rain 30 minutes ahead of the second session threw a spanner in the works.

A number of drivers opted to try out Pirelli's wet-weather tyres early on, given there had been precious little experimentation on them in pre-season testing.

A dry line did eventually appear as clouds lifted and the skies lightened, but it was never going to be enough to allow them to challenge Button's early effort, despite a late frenzy of laps.

Seven-times champion Michael Schumacher led the way right at the death, but with a time that was 1.6secs adrift of Button's best earlier in the day.

And the only problem with the Briton's time is that it is 0.7secs slower than Mark Webber's best in FP1 a year ago.

To appreciate how much is likely left in the locker, and just why so many questions remain unanswered, Sebastian Vettel's pole time in Australia last season was a 1:23.529.

Hamilton finished 0.245secs adrift of his team-mate in FP1, with the duo comfortably clear of the remainder of the field that was led by Schumacher.

The German manufacturing giant's car, in particular, looks solid and planted, assisted by a new radical wing system deemed legal by the FIA.

The technical head of motor sport's governing body, Charlie Whiting, claims the device is "completely passive", with no moving parts that otherwise would have led to it being banned.

Operating in a similar way as to the F-duct of two years ago, the rear wing is stalled, which in turn allows greater straightline speed.

It proved to be a German one-two in FP2 as Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India finished 0.109secs down, with Sauber's Sergio Perez in third, but almost a further second behind.

Mexican Perez was fortunate to avoid contact with a wall after losing control of his car at the top of the start-finish straight and engaging in a spin late on.

Despite the conditions, that was only one of two notable incidents as Ferrari's Felipe Massa slid into a gravel trap in FP1.

To underline the nature of the times in FP2, Red Bull duo Vettel and Webber were down in 10th and 11th respectively, three seconds down.

As for Button and Hamilton, they languished in 15th and 16th and four seconds off the pace in the second session, while Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen was 18th, five seconds down.

After their troubles in FP1, HRT finally put some laps on their car as Narain Karthikeyan managed 16, albeit finishing 13.5secs adrift of Schumacher.

Karthikeyan's engine stopped on his first quick lap in FP1 and he never made it out again, while team-mate Pedro de la Rosa sat in the garage as the team attempted to finish a car that only passed scrutineering at the 11th hour.

The veteran Spaniard then managed only one installation lap in FP2 as his problems continued.

First practice times: 1 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1min 27.560secs, 2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1:27.805, 3 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:28.235, 4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:28.360, 5 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:28.467, 6 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:28.683, 7 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:28.908, 8 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault 1:29.415, 9 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus 1:29.565, 10 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1:29.722, 11 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:29.790, 12 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:29.865, 13 Paul Di Resta (Gbr) Force India-Mercedes 1:29.881, 14 Bruno Senna (Bra) Williams-Renault 1:29.953, 15 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:30.124, 16 Romain Grosjean (Swi) Lotus 1:30.515, 17 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:30.586, 18 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:30.743, 19 Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:31.178, 20 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:31.983, 21 Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia 1:34.730, 22 Charles Pic (Fra) Marussia 1:40.256, 23 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-Cosworth no time, 24 Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) HRT-Cosworth no time

Second practice times: 1 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1min 29.183secs, 2 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:29.292, 3 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:30.199, 4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:30.341, 5 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber 1:30.709, 6 Paul Di Resta (Gbr) Force India-Mercedes 1:31.466, 7 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:31.505, 8 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham-Renault 1:31.932, 9 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:32.184, 10 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:32.194, 11 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:32.296, 12 Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia-Cosworth 1:32.632, 13 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Caterham-Renault 1:32.767, 14 Romain Grosjean (Swi) Lotus-Renault 1:32.822, 15 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.039, 16 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.252, 17 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault 1:34.108, 18 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault 1:34.275, 19 Bruno Senna (Bra) Williams-Renault 1:34.312, 20 Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:34.485, 21 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:34.604, 22 Charles Pic (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth 1:34.770, 23 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-Cosworth 1:42.627, 24 Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) HRT-Cosworth no time

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