Formula One teams finally had a completely dry session this morning, with bright sunshine in Melbourne for the third practice session of the weekend. So Massa, Senna, Vettel and Schumacher took full advantage by spinning under braking.
In the case of Massa, it looks like he may have put a wheel on the grass in turn 15. Again. He did that yesterday too in turn 9. Senna also lost it in the slow turn 15, which is quite easy to do, according to Jaime Alguersuari who is commentating for BBC.
World Champion Sebastian Vettel lost the back end of his Red Bull in turn 6. Vettel has not been happy with his car throughout the weekend. The team now has very little time to prepare for qualifying. Vettel managed to produce some magic in qualifying last season. Can he do it again today?
Schumacher lost his Mercedes under braking for turn 9. There didn’t seem to be an obvious reason for the spin. Perhaps his DRS stuck open, which would certainly cause instability at the rear of the car. Nonetheless, the Mercedes is looking quick, so Schumacher and Rosberg should be competitive in qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton topped the times for McLaren, highlighting the pace of the MP4-27. Romain Grosjean was second for Lotus, which suggests that the E20 is working well.
Qualifying starts in about 45 minutes. All the indications so far suggest that it will be close. It’s quite possible that some big names will not make it into Q3. The Ferraris have looked out of sorts since the beginning of pre-season testing. Alonso and Massa will have to produce something special to be competitive. At this stage, predictions of pole are difficult, although Hamilton and Button have been looking very comfortable in the McLarens.
Formula 1 is underway in 2012! Australia hosts the first round of the season, and the action began this morning with Practice 1.
The teams were greeted by a damp track, which made for little meaningful running in the first hour of so of the session. All of the drivers apart from Pedro de la Rosa completed installation laps, and then most were quiet for a while as they waited for the track to dry. De la Rosa’s HRT was not ready to run in Practice 1, despite the team breaking their curfew last night in an attempt to finish building the car.
As the first “flying” laps were done, the times were slow, around 20 seconds off the pace expected in the dry. A mixture of intermediate and wet tyres were used as the teams carried out system checks and gathered some data in the wet conditions. However, there was not much to be gained by touring around slowly, so teams such as McLaren waited in the pitlane while some of the others dried the track.
The track was reasonably dry with about half an hour to go in the session, and the laptimes began to drop. The Mercedes pair of Schumacher and Rosberg topped the timesheets for a while, before being split by the Ferrari of Fernando and the Red Bull of Mark Webber and then beaten by the McLaren pair of Button and Hamilton.
While it is difficult to analyse laptimes in practice, it seems that McLaren are quick as expected, and Mercedes seem to be quite confident. The car looks driveable and team principal Ross Brawn has commented that the team is much better prepared than it was this time last year. Red Bull did not really show their pace, with Vettel down in 11th. But they are unlikely to show what they can do until qualifying.
There were only two minor incidents in the session. Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT came to a stop on the track, presumably with a teething reliability issue, which is not entirely surprising as the team has had almost no pre-season running. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa made a small error, putting a rear wheel on the wet grass under braking for turn 9, which inevitably saw him spin into the gravel trap.
Times from the session as follows:
|5||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||01:28.5||21|
|7||16||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||01:28.9||23|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||01:29.8||21|
|12||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||01:29.9||17|
|13||11||Paul di Resta||Force India||01:29.9||18|
|19||17||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||01:31.2||17|
|23||23||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT||No time||3|
|24||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT||No time||0|
The 2012 season is almost upon us, and so some speculation is appropriate. Pre-season testing yielded very little in terms of concrete performance comparisons, but the behaviour of the teams can be quite telling.
The general consensus is that Red Bull are still on top, and McLaren are probably their closest competitors. After that, no-one really knows, but the field is expected to be very tight. Caterham look to have joined the midfield properly, but Marussia and HRT are almost certainly going to be as far behind as ever after an almost complete lack of testing.
In general, no news is good news in testing. Red Bull didn’t shout about their performance, nor did McLaren. Both teams just got on with their testing programmes without feeling the need to top the timesheets or make grand predictions about their form.
One other team that was fairly quiet was Force India. The team has been steadily moving forward for the past few seasons, and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue to do so in 2012. With the resources of Vijay Mallya, a strong technical team, the Mercedes engine, and two talented (if sligthly inexperienced) drivers, Force India is well poised to attack the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.
The first race is in Melbourne, Australia on 18 March. In qualifying on 17 March, there should finally be an indication of the true pace of the cars.