McLaren put woes to side ahead of Australian GP

McLaren today came out fighting ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday after being written off throughout pre-season.

McLaren today came out fighting ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday after being written off throughout pre-season.

McLaren endured three wretched test sessions fraught with pace and reliability issues relating to their new challenger, the MP4-26, with the belief that the team were a second adrift.

Although little can often be read into practice session times, it appears on the evidence of the second 90-minute outing at Albert Park in Melbourne that McLaren are back in the hunt.

Jenson Button ended up topping the timesheet from Lewis Hamilton by 0.132 seconds, finishing quickest with a lap of one minute 25.854 seconds.

It was a time that was a second quicker than the best posted in the first session by Mark Webber, who led a Red Bull Racing one-two with world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

The duo were forced to settle for fourth and fifth in the second session, with Vettel ahead of Webber by a quarter of a second as the former finished 0.160secs off Button.

Sandwiched in between the McLarens and Red Bulls was the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, a fraction behind Hamilton and 0.147secs adrift of Button.

The problem with the MP4-26 in testing was a radical exhaust system which at first appeared an innovation but in reality was an over-complication.

Forced to return to the drawing board, McLaren’s engineers opted to simplify the design in line with their rivals from Red Bull and Ferrari.

It could all change come tomorrow’s qualifying session, but McLaren will feel happier now than they did when they left Barcelona at the end of the last test a fortnight ago.

Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher was sixth in second practice, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa seventh, both within a second of Button as the timesheet read markedly differently compared to FP1 when the Red Bulls were out in front by almost a second.

Sauber’s Sergio Perez, on his Formula One debut, was a strong eighth, with Rubens Barrichello in his Williams shaping up nicely in ninth and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg completing the top 10.

Scotland’s Paul Di Resta, who sat out first practice in favour of reserve Nico Hulkenberg, at least had the satisfaction of finishing ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil.

On his first official outing as an F1 driver involved in a grand prix weekend, the 24-year-old Scot was 16th overall, 2.522secs behind Button and 0.207secs ahead of Sutil.

With two minutes and 30 seconds of the session remaining, Hispania Racing finally managed to get one of their two cars on track.

Plagued with financial and technical issues, a drained-looking Hispania team boss Colin Kolles watched as Vitantonio Liuzzi pulled out of the garage on his way to completing a single installation lap.

The first 90-minute session proved an eye-opening occasion, mainly 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 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, Massa braked late into a corner, 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, the concerns over their performance are set to continue for a long while yet.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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