Hamilton and Mercedes give ominous glimpse of future
It is a sign of how the pecking order in Formula One has changed in a matter of months that both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel cut relieved figures after the first day of the season yesterday.
For Hamilton, it was relief at finishing the day fastest after a disastrous morning in which he broke down on his first lap, while for Vettel it was relief at being able to run at all.
The Briton, who heads into a season full of regulation changes as the favourite, must have feared the worst when his car stopped on track five minutes into the first practice session of the year.
Vettel, the champion of the last four years, also began the day with his overalls tied round his waist, standing on the pit wall, with his Red Bull team desperate to catch up after a torrid pre-season.
But after missing the entire first session, Hamilton ended the day fastest ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg – an ominous indication of the advantage they are thought to hold over the rest of the field.
"I felt very comfortable out there," said Hamilton. "I felt I had a good understanding of what was going on. I feel quite comfortable in the car, so overall it's a positive start, but we need to look at the data now and understand where we are."
Vettel finished fourth, completing 41 laps in the second session, a remarkable turnaround given how behind Red Bull appeared at the final test less than two weeks ago in Bahrain.
His team-mate also managed to complete the team's first full race distance of the year across the two sessions.
"It was very good," said Vettel of Red Bull's day. "It is a big relief, a lot of work went into this. In terms of speed we know there is a lot more to come but so far it feels very good."
Rather than who is at the front, practice gave a much clearer indication of who is likely to struggle at Albert Park in tomorrow's race.
Lotus are in a particularly sorry state. Pastor Maldonado limped back to the pits after an out-lap in which smoke came into the cockpit and an excursion into the gravel at relatively slow speed.
Caterham, another Renault team, also suffered an awful day. Neither rookie Marcus Ericsson nor Kamui Kobayashi completed a timed lap in either session.
Most drivers spent the day focusing on set-up and mastering fuel economy, which is of crucial importance this year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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