Schumacher fastest as Melbourne dries out
16 March 2012 – Michael Schumacher was quickest after a dramatic pair of practice sessions to launch the 2012 F1 season in Australia on Friday. Following heavy rain, Melbourne’s Albert Park dried as the seven-time World Champion led the way, while Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi narrowly avoided an accident at the final corner.
Because of the weather - which forced drivers to use Wet and Intermediate tyres on the run up to Slicks - lap numbers were kept to a premium, although the conditions did allow the teams to experiment with all four Pirelli compounds on offer this weekend. For Slicks, the white-marked Medium and yellow-marked Soft types are on offer.
The day began with a McLaren one-two, as Jenson Button led Lewis Hamilton at one o’clock. The heavens opened before the second session and, with less sunshine in the late afternoon, a number of puddles remained. During the session, Formula 1 governing body the FIA proposed 30 minutes of DRS race simulation, meaning the system would only be available in the two zones allocated for Sunday’s race; this plan was abandoned when several of the teams complained.
The expected off-track moments came, with Daniel Ricciardo suffering a lurid spin in the middle of the Turn 11-12 chicane and Heikki Kovalainen shooting across the gravel at Turn 1. Fastest man Schumacher didn’t escape trouble either, heading back to the pits for repairs to his front wing. He and team-mate Nico Rosberg are again enjoying a straight-line speed advantage, not least because Mercedes has developed a system allowing air to flow through the side of the car’s rear wing and stall it further when DRS is in use.
World Champions Red Bull ran with a modified exhaust configuration which resulted in a different sound to the other teams, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber not risking the conditions and calmly making their ways to tenth and 11th places. There were worried faces at Ferrari, whose car remains out of shape in corners; 15 minutes before the end of the opening session, Felipe Massa spun into the gravel at Turn 9 after placing two wheels on the grass.
On this occasion, McLaren were only 15th and 16th, with Button still in front of Hamilton. Fernando Alonso was again fourth for Ferrari as Kimi Räikkönen ended his first day for Lotus in 18th spot, having remained in the garage until the final ten minutes of the session. In the final moments, a flurry of quick times saw Nico Hülkenberg finish second in the consistent Force India, with Sergio Pérez – who was first to sample Wet tyres at the start of the session – ending the day third for Sauber. Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi was fortunate to escape damage after a huge moment and spin at the last corner, just avoiding the wall.
HRT managed to get Pedro de la Rosa on-track at the end of the first half hour, although the Spaniard completed just a single tour; for the second consecutive session, team-mate Narain Karthikeyan was forced to park up at the side of the circuit. Toro Rosso racked up the most mileage, with no other driver managing more laps than the sums of either rookie Jean-Éric Vergne (29) or Ricciardo (31).
Third and final practice starts at 2pm local time (BST +11) on Saturday and can also be tracked through the GPUpdate.net Live Report