Red Bull Racing lived up to their billing as title favourites ahead of the new Formula One season by blitzing their rivals in first practice ahead of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.
The first 90-minute session at Melbourne’s Albert Park was an eye-opening occasion, not least due to the new Pirelli tyres.
The Italian manufacturer has replaced Bridgestone from this season, and there is every indication they will play a significant role in determining the destiny of the championship.
One television shot zoomed in on a tyre on world champion Sebastian Vettel’s car that was missing a significant chunk of rubber, almost appearing as if it had been cut out such was the depth of the damage.
Later in the session, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa braked late into one of the corners, and the flatspot that resulted practically saw the tyre shredded in that particular area.
It is this high degradation of the Pirellis that has sparked one of the major talking points of the pre-season, and at this rate, could well result in many concerns being aired.
The expectation is that after the bulletproof reliability of the Bridgestones that necessitated just one change per race, and then only because the rules forced the teams to do so, the likelihood is there will be three, potentially four pit stops on Sunday.
With regard to the timesheet, it was Mark Webber who finished out in front ahead of team-mate Vettel, F1’s youngest world champion.
Vettel led the way for a lengthy period until deposed in the dying seconds by Webber in front of his home fans.
The Australian posted a lap of one 26.831secs, just under a tenth of a second faster than the best time posted in FP1 last year, leaving Vettel 0.327secs adrift.
Behind them, and whether it is an ominous indictor remains to be seen because these are very early days, but Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished 0.918secs behind Webber, with the rest nowhere.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was fourth quickest, followed by Williams’ Rubens Barrichello, but they were 1.321secs and 1.599secs adrift respectively.
Then came the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, with their cars sporting a more conventional exhaust system compared to the radical design that plagued them during testing, however, they were both just over 1.6secs off the pace.
Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes, the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi and Renault’s Vitaly Petrov completed the top 10, all just under two seconds down, with Massa 11th after a difficult session that included a trundle across the gravel early on.
The session started in truly dramatic fashion, with Karun Chandhok spearing his Team Lotus into a wall inside the opening minute after becoming the first to take to the track.
The anguished looks on the faces of the Team Lotus personnel in the garage said it all, as it was hardly a vindication of the decision to give the Indian an opportunity for an outing.
Jarno Trulli was the man who made way for Chandhok, who was only taken on by the Hingham-based marque earlier this week as their reserve driver.
It would be fair to assume the veteran Italian will not have been an impressed spectator after watching his car end up without a front wing.
Chandhok, though, did not finish at the bottom of the timesheet, with that honour reserved for Hispania Racing duo Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan.
Such has been the piecing together of the team’s new car, neither made it out of the garage as the engineers continued with systems checks.
Scotland’s Paul di Resta will have to wait until FP2 for his first outing as a fully-fledged F1 driver as he made way for reserve Nico Hulkenberg.
It was a similar situation with Jaime Alguersuari at Toro Rosso as Australian Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed his first practice session with the team as their reserve.