Australian GP – A difficult Friday to analyse

Melbourne, 16 March – Brief but heavy Australian downpours also compromised the second session of free practice of the first grand prix of the season, which finished a few minutes ago at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.

At the end of the unusual session the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher set the fastest time (1.29.183), ahead of the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg (1.29.292) and Sergio Perez’s Sauber (1.30.199). The F2012 of Fernando Alonso was fourth with 1.30.341, while the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa ended up in seventh place with 1.31.505.

The Ferrari drivers had just one flying run with Medium tyres, having remained in the pits for a long time as they waited for the uncertain track conditions to allow them to complete the day’s programme. Both put in some practice starts before coming back into the pits after a very hectic end to the session.

The third and final session of free practice is scheduled for tomorrow at 1400 local time.

 
Australian GP – A day that was hard to understand

The 2012 season has got underway in indecipherable fashion. After so many kilometres in winter testing at Jerez de la Frontera and Barcelona, today one could have expected a few indications from the first two free practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix, however, the weather, which was to say the least somewhat variable, affected both FP1 and FP2. Therefore times from this first Friday of the season are even less relevant than usual. The two F2012 completed a total of 59 laps, just one more than Sunday’s race distance. The only incident of the day came in the morning, when Felipe went off the track, luckily without any consequence for either driver or car.

Fernando Alonso: “It is always a pleasure to be back at a Grand Prix after the winter break: everyone is out on track together and there’s the crowd, so it is always a nice feeling. It was a bit complicated trying to work through the programme we had planned for this Friday because of the weather. Therefore there is still a bit of work to do tomorrow before qualifying, but I think the others are in a similar position. I am reasonably satisfied with the car: the initial feeling as to its balance is positive. However, we have not done the usual comparison between the two types of tyre, because we ran mainly on the intermediates and the Mediums and these seem to be behaving quite well, as far as degradation is concerned. It was important to have everything working perfectly – from the KERS to the engine, from the power steering to the gearbox and everything else, as is always the case on the opening day of the season – and that’s how it went. There’s no point looking at the time sheet from today with a view to making predictions for qualifying. Tomorrow I expect to see a very mixed up grid because there are so many teams that have done a good job over the winter. We will try and do our best, putting together the best elements we have tried in the past weeks, including a few details we brought here. However, my opinion has not changed: we wait for tomorrow to see where we are compared to the others. But if I was to give some sort of opinion on the day, I would say it’s been positive. We did the important things, the balance is good and the car responds well to changes.”

Felipe Massa: “After over three months, finally we are back to what we drivers like best, namely racing. However, today was a rather difficult first day back, because we could not do as many laps as we had planned. The rain complicated matters in both the first and the second session. In the first one, I also went off track, which cost me a bit of time: as I was braking, I got the left rear wheel on the grass and the car took off on its own, only stopping in the gravel on the escape road. In the second session, the rain meant the track was wet for a long time and only towards the end was I able to fit the dry tyres. All things considered, it wasn’t really possible to understand much as to where we are compared to the others. I did too few laps to say if the car has changed since the last day of the Barcelona test. Tomorrow afternoon, in qualifying we will all run in the same conditions so we will finally understand something!”

Pat Fry: “Today was even harder than usual to interpret because of the weather. The track conditions changed very rapidly, making it very difficult to work through the programme we had set ourselves. Furthermore, as this is the first race, we chose to save a handful of kilometres on the engine. The opportunity to use one of the sets of tyres available today in the third session, will allow us to recover at least part of the programme tomorrow. Honestly, it’s impossible to give any sort of assessment of the performance of the F2012 and on the prospects for this weekend. We had said we must wait until tomorrow’s qualifying to know more, so you need to be patient for a further 24 hours! We too are very curious to know where we stand compared to the competition…”

  First session Second session  
Driver Pos. Time Laps Pos. Time Laps Chassis
F. Alonso 4th 1.28.360 21 4th 1.30.341 13 295
F. Massa 18th 1.30.743 11 7th 1.31.305 14 293

Weather
First session: air 20/22 °C, track 21/23 °C. Variable conditions, damp track at the beginning then dry.
Second session: air 21/19 °C, track 24/21 °C. Variable conditions, wet track at the beginning then dry

 
Australian GP – Clouds cloud judgement 

Melbourne, 16 March – If it’s true that the F1 cognoscenti have spent the winter saying we will only understand the current team hierarchy after Qualifying in Albert Park, it had been expected that maybe Friday’s three hours of free practice would shed some light on the matter. However, Melbourne’s famously changeable weather meant that any possible judgement was hiding behind the clouds that meant a wet track was a feature of both sessions.

For the record, Fernando Alonso finished fourth in both the morning and afternoon and Scuderia Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa was 18th in the F2012 in the morning after a harmless spin left him stuck in a gravel trap and then seventh in the afternoon. Given that yesterday was the first time the Australian city had seen rain in a long time, it seemed as though this was a special arrangement to spice up the show.

For what it’s worth, Michael Schumacher was quickest in the afternoon for Mercedes, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India and Sergio Perez third for Sauber. After Fernando, Kamui Kobayashi was fifth in the other Sauber with Paul di Resta completing the top six in the second Force India.

There are some new faces on the grid and some not so new: this year we have two French rookies, Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso and Charles Pic at Marussia, while bringing the number of World Champions up to six is the returning Kimi Raikkonen, who had a two year rallying sabbatical after leaving Ferrari and is now lining up for Lotus. Tomorrow is expected to be dry, so hopefully qualifying, at 17h00 will finally provide the answers to the questions that have been asked all winter.