Australian Grand Prix: Red Bull looking good in practice…

Oz Grand PrixThe big stories for those of you who didn’t throw an all-nighter; Red Bull look very strong, McLaren look in trouble, there’s little to choose between Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes. Oh, and Lewis ended FP2 in the gravel.

As I’m writing this, McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh’s mug is dead centre on the screen and he’s looking as dark as hell. He’s sticking to the line — of course he is — that had they kept developing last year’s car they would have been quicker today, but they might not be at the end of the season. There just wasn’t the development in it, etc…. Well, McLaren needs to find 1.2secs now. And that’s before Red Bull start developing the RB9. Yeah, McLaren are in trouble.

Lewis Hamilton, who’s already not missing a chance to dis McLaren, will be happy for one; his Mercedes W04 looked good today, three tenths off Red Bull in FP1, and rather more this afternoon. Then again, both his and team mate Nico Rosberg’s run’s came to premature ends almost simultaneously while running the super-soft tyres Pirelli say are worth a solid second around Albert Park.

Behind Vettel in the morning session, Hamilton and Rosberg traded times with Massa and Alonso. And Ferrari looked confident, Lewis and Fernando spending the first few minutes of the new F1 season trying to out-cool each other, attempting to communicate a degree of confidence in their car so great they didn’t need to practice with it. Ayrton Senna used to do this, but then again he had all the off-season testing he wanted.

Indeed, as others joined the too-cool-for-school brigade and the track sat empty for what seemed like an eternity, you could only conclude every team was confident it had already this weekend’s winner. Well, you have to do something looking at an empty racetrack on the other side of the world on your telly in the middle of the night.

Sky, who hosted our all-nighter, had just sent Martin Brundle out to go watch the cars on the circuit. He ended up talking to marshals. Brundle is clearly very up for the new season, showing little time for the platitudes and banter at the start of the show. That’s why we love him.

(The show itself began oddly with a little joke suggesting the Sky team had no idea there was a race on in Melbourne this weekend until Lewis rang them to tell them so. As a gag it didn’t really work, suggesting Sky might try to muscle in to the gang show feel the BBC had last year with Jake and Eddie and DC. Maybe Sky thinks Suzi Perry will be a killjoy. They should have watched her show reel first. Don’t do it Sky. We watch you for Brundle and Anthony Davidson and, though he gets no less gauche, Ted Kravitz. They tell us stuff we don’t know).

Anyhow, here’s the way it looks on the first day on the 2013 F1 season; Red Bull on top with a four tenths advantage (VET was ahead in FP1 and FP2, WEB runner up in FP2). Behind them Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari that order. McLaren’s problems possibly mean it will be Force India next up, raising the possibility that McLaren might not make Q3 tomorrow.

There’s surprisingly little to choose between Sauber, Wlliams and Toro Rosso and bringing up the tail, Marussia appears to have the edge on Caterham at least, in the hands of Bianchi. Max Chilton, the new Brit on the grid, got the laps in okay, but couldn’t get within a second of his teammate. It’s going to be tough for him to make any kind of name for himself from there.

Qualifying means another late night/early start tomorrow. You wouldn’t bet against Vettel. Red Bulls are normally faster on a Saturday. But it could be a good old scrap behind him. It won’t include McLaren. That car Whitmarsh didn’t want to keep developing dominated qualifying last year by the way; has McLaren already made its first mistake of 2013?

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