Perfect start for McLaren

Jenson Button during first practice in Melbourne

McLaren conjured the ideal start to the new Formula One season with a one-two at the end of first practice for the Australian Grand Prix.

However, fans of the British pair should realise these are very early days and the true test of McLaren’s new car, and the rest of the field, will only come in tomorrow’s qualifying session.

As a tonic, however, it will serve all the team well and further fuel the belief they at least have a reasonable platform on which to build a title challenge this year.

Following a damp start at Melbourne’s Albert Park, the 90-minute session at least ended with a dry track and under predominantly blue skies as F1 made its long-awaited return.

Jenson Button ultimately led the way in the MP4-27 with a lap of one minute 27.560secs, 0.7secs slower than Mark Webber’s best in FP1 a year ago.

To appreciate how much is likely left in the locker, Sebastian Vettel’s pole time in Australia last season was a 1:23.529.

Team-mate Lewis Hamilton finished 0.245secs adrift, with the duo comfortably clear of the remainder of the field led by Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes.

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 straight-line speed.

Fernando Alonso, who survived a severe sideways moment at the top of the start-finish straight, was fourth in his Ferrari that many fear is some way off the leaders, the Spaniard 0.8secs adrift.

On home soil Webber was fifth for Red Bull, followed by the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.

There was then a mixed bunch that completed the top 10, led by Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, then Pastor Maldonado in his Williams, Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi.

With Red Bull undoubtedly yet to show their hand, double world champion Vettel was down in 11th, 2.230secs behind Button, with Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta 12th and 13th.

As for Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, he had the ignominy of being the first driver to spin, with the Brazilian sliding into a gravel trap from which he was unable to escape, finishing a lowly 18th.

It was a troubled start for HRT as on his first flying lap the engine cut out on Narain Karthikeyan’s car in the final sector.

The F112 failed to run at all in pre-season testing, and only managed 10 laps in an allowed filming day just 10 days ago.

But on its first serious outing it managed three installation laps before grinding to a halt, leaving Karthikeyan 23rd and without a time.

As for Pedro de la Rosa, his car only passed scrutineering at the 11th hour, but despite that the team failed to get the Spaniard out on track.

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