Melbourne - Lewis Hamilton lent some credibility to the hype surrounding Mercedes by posting the fastest time in Friday practice at the Australian Grand Prix, as the Formula One season kicked off with teams still battling reliability problems.
The 2008 world champion could not finish a lap in the first session due to a sensor problem, but topped the timesheets in the second with a lap of one minute 29.625 seconds on a glorious sunny day at Albert Park.
Hamilton's quickest edged out team mate Nico Rosberg by 0.157 seconds as the pace of the two Mercedes' drivers carried on from their promising performances in winter testing.
GETTING A FEEL
“I was trying to feel the car. I missed obviously P1 which I felt like was a big back-step,” Hamilton told reporters in the paddock.
“I'm satisfied with P2 ... Not the most perfect day but I'm really glad I got some run in P2 and just grateful I got some time to feel the car.
“For me, it didn't feel like a good lap. I'd only done a few laps until then. So I've still got a lot to improve on, a lot to find (out). Otherwise the balance doesn't feel too bad.”
Teams struggled to come to terms with the new turbocharged hybrid engines during pre-season, and continued to battle glitches during practice, with drivers cooling their heels for long stretches in the garages, as technicians tinkered frantically.
Excursions onto the track saw a number of drivers fight to handle the extra torque and reduced downforce of the new V6 power units, with plenty of over-steering at corners and skids into the grass.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso handled conditions better than most, posting the quickest lap of one minute 31.840 seconds in the first session and finishing third fastest in the second.
RED BULL IMPROVING
Reigning quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel had a couple of nervy skids, coming onto the grass at one point in the later session, but finished an encouraging fourth, having endured a dismal winter testing with Red Bull.
“I'm quite surprised today, both (team mate) Dan (Ricciardo) and I did a lot of laps so that's very good news, so let's see what tomorrow brings,” Vettel said.
“I learned a lot today, we're in a much happier place already.”
Ricciardo finished sixth fastest after putting some decent mileage into the car, with the Red Bull drivers sandwiching McLaren's Jenson Button in fifth place.
Kimi Raikonnen, in his first drive since returning to Ferrari, was forced to roll back into the garage after an aborted start at the exit of the pit lane but re-emerged to post the seventh fastest time.
STOPPED BY SECURITY
Hamilton was earlier left fuming when his car stopped at turn nine of his installation lap just five minutes into the first session.
With the vehicle hauled off by a tow-truck, the 29-year-old Briton walked back to the paddock without taking his helmet off and suffered the indignity of being stopped by security before retreating into his team's tent.
Mercedes later issued a statement saying they had fixed a “calibration” problem with an oil pressure sensor that triggered the engine's halt.
Lotus, who missed the first test of the season because their car was not ready on time, barely made an appearance on Friday with neither of their drivers able to post a lap in the opening session.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean did emerge for 12 laps in the second session to finish with the second-slowest time from the 19 drivers that registered laps.
McLaren's Kevin Magnussen enjoyed the best day of the three F1 rookies, posting the ninth fastest time in the second practice, but Caterham's Marcus Ericsson was unable to post a lap all day.
Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi's F1 return with Caterham was also forgettable, as he failed to post a time in the first session and had to sit out the second as engineers worked on a fuel system problem.
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1min 29.625sec
2. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1:29.782
3. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari 1:30.132
4. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing 1:30.381
5. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren Mercedes 1:30.510
6. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing 1:30.538
7. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Scuderia Ferrari 1:30.898
8. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams 1:30.920
9. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) McLaren Mercedes 1:31.031
10. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India 1:31.054
11. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1:31.060
12. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1:31.119
13. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1:31.283
14. Adrian Sutil (GER) Sauber 1:32.355
15. Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber 1:32.468
16. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Toro Rosso 1:32.495
17. Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1:33.486
18. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1:33.646
19. Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1:34.757
20. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Caterham
21. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Caterham
22. Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Lotus
1. Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari 1:31.840
2. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren Mercedes 1:32.357
3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams 1:32.403
4. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1:32.431
5. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing 1:32.599
6. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1:32.604
7. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing 1:32.793
8. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) McLaren Mercedes 1:32.847
9. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Scuderia Ferrari 1:32.977
10. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1:33.446
11. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Force India 1:33.533
12. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1:33.855
13. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Toro Rosso 1:34.272
14. Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber 1:35.578
15. Adrian Sutil (GER) Sauber 1:36.445
16. Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1:40.859
17. Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1:46.922
18. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Caterham
19. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes
20. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Caterham
21. Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Lotus
22. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus