With Friday practice in Australia done and dusted Badger is trying to draw some conclusion from the first three hours of the F1 season proper. Wish us luck!

Red Bull

Undoubtedly quick – and still the clear favourites for pole – Red Bull paced the first session with Webber first and Vettel second before dropping to fifth and fourth respectively in the second. They were trying race simulations in the latter so they won’t be too worried, as evidenced by the cheer displayed on the faces of Christian Horner and Adrian Newey today. Expect the battle for P1 to be a private party between Seb and Mark come tomorrow’s qualifying.

McLaren

After a winter of negativity McLaren will be mighty relieved to have been one and two in the second session, with Melbourne specialist Jenson Button pipping Lewis Hamilton by just over a tenth. They don’t seem like having the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari in qualy but could position themselves behind the pacesetters, giving them a good chance to pounce on any problems those two might hit in the race. Button will also be happy to have run more laps than anyone else today, with 61 in total. Crisis? What crisis?

Ferrari

With Alonso third in both sessions it’s clear that the Ferrari has some pace, and with the team having run more than anyone else over the winter you can add durability to that speed. Third is exactly where we expected Fernando to be heading to Australia; it’s where he’s been in both practice sessions and it’s where we expect him to be after qualifying tomorrow. The race, however, is anyone’s guess. Team-mate Massa was adrift in both sessions, over a second shy in FP1 and eight-tenths off in FP2, and will need to up his game for qualy if he doesn’t want to slip back in to 2010 mode.

Mercedes

Promising, with Rosberg P4 in the first session and Michael Schumacher running strongly throughout the second to end up sixth. They didn’t display the pace of the McLarens in the afternoon run but it’s the Woking team you’d expect them to be battling in qualifying. Like McLaren they struggled in testing but seem far more comfortable now we’ve arrived at the opening race. The battle between the four silver cars could be a fascinating one.

Renault

The team’s early testing pace wasn’t on show in Friday practice, with Vitaly Petrov taking 10th and 12th and Nick Heidfeld 12th and 13th in FP1 and FP2 respectively, separated by just eight-hundredths in the second session. Both recorded a decent number of laps but the look on team boss Eric Boullier’s face said plenty – they’re not where they expected to be. Q1 is the minimum requirement but on today’s evidence they’ll be sneaking in there if they manage it. You get the feeling Robert Kubica’s abilities behind the wheel are being acutely missed right now.

Williams

Rubens Barrichello appears to have picked up where he left off last season: putting his car among the front runners and defying the aging process. He was fifth in FP2 and eighth in FP2 – only Q3 will be enough to satisfy the Brazilian tomorrow. Rubens also put worries of poor reliability for his new motor aside by completing 58 laps, a total bettered only by Jenson Button. Pastor Maldonado meanwhile quietly got himself acquainted with F1, running a solid 53 laps and setting the 18th best time of the combined sessions.

Force India

The Silverstone-based squad appear to have begun this year where they ended last year: in the midfield and at risk of Q1 elimination. Full marks to Paul di Resta for outpacing experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil in the second session despite having missed FP1, Nico Hulkenberg having run first practice for the team. These lads are likely to qualify between 14th and 18th if today is anything to go by.

  • Adrian Sutil – Best: 1m28.583s – Laps: 50
  • Paul di Resta – Best: 1m28.376s – Laps: 33
  • Nico Hulkenberg (T) – Best: 1m31.002s – Laps: 20

Sauber

A very impressive day indeed for the Swiss team, with Kamui Kobayashi eighth in FP2 and rookie Sergio Perez taking the same position in FP2, the Mexican also wracking up one of the highest lap totals. The car has been quick throughout testing and today’s times seem to suggest that wasn’t all for show. If anyone is going to embarass one of the big guns in qualifying it’ll be these guys, with both looking capable of Q1. Give youth a chance!

Toro Rosso

Not quite the stellar, Lewis Hamilton-impressing pace we’ve seen in testing. Daniel Ricciardo debuted in FP1, taking in a total of 23 laps and getting within a few tenths of Sebastien Buemi. When Jaime Alguersuari appeared for FP2 the team looked closer to their winter pace, the young Spaniard recording the 11th best time with Buemi 14th. Q2 looks likely, albeit in a more comfortable fashion than they tended to manage it last season.

Lotus

Lotus’ season got off to the worst possible start when Karun Chandhok binned it between turns five and six on his very first lap out of the pits, setting them back significantly for the remainder of the session. He didn’t run again. Heikki Kovalainen managed a so-so 35 laps overall whilst Jarno Trulli appeared for FP2 to complete 23 tours in the machine Karun had so considerately mashed up for him. It could be a lonely weekend for the Lotus lads – they’re clearly much quicker than 2010 rivals Virgin but haven’t bridged the gap to the midfield quite as much as they’d have liked. Q1 elimination seems to beckon once more.

  • Heikki Kovalainen – Best: 1m30.829s – Laps: 35
  • Jarno Trulli – Best: 1m30.912s – Laps: 23
  • Karun Chandhok (T) – Best: N/A – Laps: 0.2

Hispania

The question over Hispania for this weekend has switched from whether they’ll beat the 107% rule to whether their cars will contest qualifying at all. No action in FP1 was followed by a single lap for Tonio Liuzzi in the dying moments of the second session. When the F111 pulled out of the garage there was barely a dry eye in the house. There are a million rumours about what’s going on here, but what’s clear is that the new car is FIA-approved – the Italian wouldn’t have been allowed on track otherwise. It’s being said that they’ve only enough parts to run one car in qualy, in which case you’d expect Narain Karthikeyan to do the honours (he is, after all, paying for that seat) but hope Liuzzi got the chance. Either way it’s going to be another struggle for the Spanish team.

Photo: HRT F1 Media

Virgin

Not a great showing for Virgin, who seem as far away from the front-runners as last year whilst also a greater distance away from chief rivals Lotus. Over eight seconds off the pace in FP1, they did improve in the second session but were still over six seconds off the quickest time. At this rate they’ll just scrape past the 107% rule. That said both cars enjoyed good running, with rookie Jerome d’Ambrosio completing 53 laps and Timo Glock 45. That the Belgian beat his team-mate time-wise is almost certainly down to Timo running a different programme – the German will have the legs on rookie stablemate this weekend.