Mercedes’ Show Their Pace

Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher used his final lap of a fast-drying second practice session to vault ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and end an inconclusive first day of action in Australia top of the timesheets.

Further heavy rain ahead of second practice meant that the Albert Park circuit was littered with numerous puddles of standing water for the start of the afternoon’s second session and ensured drivers were again forced to run Pirelli’s wet tyres while they waited for the circuit dry out.

That moment arrived with just under 25 minutes to go and soon prompted an inevitably frenzied end to the first day of track action this season as teams sought to make up for lost set-up time.

Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa and Paul di Resta had all taken turns at the top in the closing stages as the fastest times quickly tumbled, but Hulkenberg appeared to take first place as his own with two laps in the 1:29s for Force India.

But Schumacher had other ideas, and with the chequered flag already having dropped, completed his final lap in a time of 1:29.183s to edge out his German countryman by just a tenth of a second to give a glimpse of the potential of the Mercedes W03, whose rear wing continues to be the subject of much intrigue.

Schumacher had also looked quick in the wet conditions and Sky Sports F1‘s Anthony Davidson said during commentary: “I think he was a bit confused last season with the car, I don’t think it suited his style.It really looks like the Mercedes has been adapted more around what he wants, he likes a car that is very positive at the front-end, he likes to attack right up until the apex of a corner. And that looks like what he has been able to do today.”

Martin Brundle also noted that “there’s no doubt about it, the Mercedes looks mighty fast”.

Sauber’s Sergio Perez had set the pace from Schumacher in the earlier running on the intermediate tyre and still ended up third once he bolted the slicks on , with team-mate Kamui Kobayashi fifth – although the Japanese somehow managed to keep his C31 out of the wall at the final corner when he lost the back end and completed a lurid spin.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was a late improver in fourth, with earlier pacesetters di Resta and Massa taking sixth and seventh respectively ahead of the impressive Heikki Kovalainen.

With the fastest time from the session still some four second slower than Jenson Button’s morning best, it was little surprise to see both expected pacesetters Red Bull and McLaren run low-key sessions and as a result finish low down the timesheets.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were therefore 10th and 11th respectively for RBR, with Button and Lewis Hamilton – who chose not to run in the initial wet conditions at all – 15th and 16th.

HRT, meanwhile, endured another troublesome session as Pedro de la Rosa completed just a single installation lap in the second chassis while Narain Karthikeyan stopped out on the circuit right at the end of the session.

The early slippery conditions had caught numerous drivers out, with Kovalainen (twice) and Kobayashi both taking trips across turn one and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo spinning at high speed through the fast 11/12 switch.