Mar 13, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
Fernando Alonso has started the 2014 Formula 1 season in the best possible fashion by finishing fastest during the first practice session for the Australian Grand Prix today.
The Spanish driver managed to see off the challenge of McLaren’s Jenson Button and both Williams drivers to finish on top of the timesheets as Mercedes and Red Bull both encountered problems during the opening session of the season.
Formula 1’s new era got underway in typically sunny conditions in Australia with Alonso being the first driver out on track. He was joined by a number of other drivers for an installation lap, but some had to bide their time, including Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull worked on his car.
However, the session was soon interrupted when Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes came to a halt on track after just five minutes, appearing to confirm the reliability concerns that had been raised throughout the winter. The W05 was craned away a few minutes later, allowing the session to continue after a yellow flag period. The team later confirmed that a sensor shut down the car, and it was not a problem with the power unit.
Despite Red Bull’s problems, Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to post a lap time, setting an early benchmark of 1:37.290, and he was soon followed by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen who was around half a second off with his first lap. A number of other drivers came out and posted a lap time inside the first 30 minutes of the session, with Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg trading fastest lap times. As the drivers sought the limit of their cars, a number of mistakes were made. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat both had sideways moments, whilst Sergio Perez very nearly spun his Force India at turn three.
Thanks to the new rules in 2014, all drivers have an extra set of tires to use in the first half an hour of the session, meaning that there was a great amount of on-track action to kick-start the new era of Formula 1. However, at the end of this period, there was a lull on track as teams took a second to regroup and prepare for the final hour of the session.
Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez both looked to set some fast laps at the halfway point during the session, and the British driver managed to move to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:32.357. After a disastrous 2013 season, McLaren began 2014 in good fashion with Button leading the way. However, Caterham’s year got off to a bad start as both Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson were forced to sit out due to problems with the CT-05 car.
With 40 minutes to go, defending world champion Sebastian Vettel finally got out on track for the first time after a lengthy rebuild by the Red Bull team. However, he only completed an installation lap before returning to the pits. At Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso, Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat kicked up some grass after running wide, but he was able to continue. Teammate Jean-Eric Vergne also made a mistake at turn one, lamenting his lack of experience with the new brake-by-wire system over the radio.
Felipe Massa, running in his first official session for Williams, soon began to show his pace by popping up into second place with around 30 minutes remaining. Former teammate Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets though, wrestling P1 away from Button by going half a second quicker than the McLaren. Marussia’s Max Chilton managed to come out and post a lap time in the final half an hour of the session, although he did hit a trolley in his pit box on entry.
Towards the end of the session, the drivers began to focus on their long runs with heavy fuel, meaning that the times remained relatively unchanged. Lotus managed to send its drivers out during the final ten minutes of the session, but Pastor Maldonado suffered a problem with his car that saw him take a trip through the gravel before returning to the pits without any power.
Come the end of the session, none of the drivers could better Alonso’s time, giving Ferrari a great start to the season as its rivals faltered. However, with this being just the first session of the year, it remains to be seen who will be the man to beat come race-day.
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