First Friday practice

Photo by Ron Searle
JENSON BUTTON/Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was fastest in the first Friday practice at Albert Park in Melbourne for the Formula One season’s opener race – the Qantas Australian Grand Prix. His time was 1:27.560.

The ninety-minute session was not that exciting for the fans, unit the end. Many drivers sat much of the practice out, choosing to run in the last half hour. The drivers were allowed to run DRS during the entire session.

Saturday’s weather was Melbournean – very changeable. It rained in the morning which was not helpful to the teams having their first go of it in 2012.

Button’s teammate, LEWIS HAMILTON was second, followed by MICHAEL SCHUMACHER/Mercedes AMG Petronas, FERNANDO ALONSO/Scuderia Ferrari and local favorite, MARK WEBBER/Red Bull Racing.

Sixth through tenth were Schumacher’s teammate, NICO ROSBERG, followed by DANIEL RICCIARDO/Scuderia Toro Rosso, PASTOR MALDONADO/Williams, KIMI RAIKKONEN/Lotus F1 Team and KAMUI KOBAYASHI/Sauber F1 Team.

The Entry List for the weekend does not list any Friday reserve/test drivers. Although the reserve/test drivers might be on site, one recently announced Official Test Driver – ALEXANDER ROSSI of California – will not. He’s in France testing his new Formula Renault 3.5 car at Paul Ricard and doing well. Caterham F1 Team just announced his appointment.

JOHNNY HERBERT is the Driver’s Representative on the FI Stewards’ Panel. The other FIA Stewards are STEVE CHOPPING of Australia, PAUL GUTJAHR of Switzerland, and ENZO SPANO of Venezuela.

In the rush to get ready for the first on-track days, one team exercised its first of four allowed Individual Exceptions to the mandatory curfew hours. HRT F1 Team worked late after receiving a waiver for Thursday scrutineering. Friday morning prior to the practice, the car passed preliminary scrutineering for 2012 safety requirements.

The Team Personnel Curfew Exemption rule was clarified Thursday morning to state that teams are prohibited from exercising two of their waivers in one weekend. The individual exemptions are called “jokers” – a mistake but no penalty.

Technical inspection is a bit more complex this year with all the rule changes. Tolerances are tighter, and there’s lots more to check.

NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN/HRT turned three laps but posted no times. His teammate, PEDRO DE LA ROSA didn’t go out at all. When last seen after practice, Karthikeyan was yawning.

Massa's damaged car
Photo by Ron Searle
FELIPE MASSA/Scuderia Ferrari was the first driver of the weekend to get a lift back to the pits from a Boundary Rider. He spun out and beached it in the gravel, leaving an odd tire track trail. Massa’s car was quickly rescued by the Manitu (crane) which came in from the other direction and left a different odd tire track trail.

Massa's car towed to pits
Photo by Ron Searle

Thursday AGP attendance was up – 46,800 this year, the highest Thursday in the past five years. Last year’s Thursday attendance was 40,500.