Ferrari has hit its stride by winning the first practice.
The first real shots in the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship were finally fired as the first free practice session of the season was held in Albert Park this afternoon.
And it was Fernando Alonso who emerged fastest for Ferrari with a lap of 1m 31.840s, 0.517s ahead of Jenson Button on 1m 32.357s for McLaren and the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa on 1m 32.403s and 1m 32.431s respectively. The Finn pipped the Brazilian for third right at the end.
Alonso had been the first out when the track opened, but it was pre-race favourite Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes which had the dubious honour of being the first car to stop. After 12 minutes, the 2008 champion rolled to a smoky halt at Turn 9 before he had set a time.
Despite fears over reliability, the Mercedes was the only car to stop on track, but neither the Caterhams nor the Lotuses recorded times, and nor did Jules Bianchi’s Marussia.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to set a time, with 1m 37.290s after 12m 45.44s of the session, and the Australian kept his Red Bull ahead of Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren until Alonso and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg started swapping fastest times. Button later got in on the act too, deposing Alonso until the Ferrari driver found half a second to settle the issue.
In an encouraging session for Red Bull, Ricciardo was fifth on 1m 32.599s with Rosberg, another pre-event favourite, only sixth on 1m 32.604s ahead of Sebastian Vettel on 1m 32.793s. The world champion did not run more than an out lap during the first hour, but did two stints in the last 30 minutes.
Like Massa, Raikkonen and team mate Daniil Kvyat, the Frenchman had an off-track moment though nobody did any damage. As usual, Turn 1 was the popular place for such indiscretions.
Nico Hulkenberg was 11th for Force India on 1m 33.533s ahead of team mate Sergio Perez on 1m 33.855s, the Mexican being the only driver actually to spin.
Kvyat was 13th on 1m 34.272s, ahead of the Saubers of Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil on 1m 35.578s and 1m 36.445s respectively. Max Chilton was the last driver to set a time, albeit a slow 1m 46.922s. Later the Englishman locked up and tapped a trolly in front of his garage as he came into the pits, without causing much damage.
Pastor Maldonado did get out in his Lotus, with 10 minutes left, but had a wild ride which included smoke emanating from the cockpit and an off which narrowly avoided a wall, before he rolled back into the pit lane.
It was a curiously calm session, with plenty of intervals when nobody was running, and though it got the season off to an official start it remained inconclusive. The second session this afternoon may paint a clearer picture.