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Melbourne - World champion Sebastian Vettel put his rivals firmly in their place by dominating both practice sessions on the opening day of the new Formula One season at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday.
The German, embarking on his quest for a fourth successive world title, steered the car he has nicknamed 'Hungry Heidi' around the Melbourne street circuit in one minute 25.908 seconds half an hour before the end of the second session.
That lap topped the time sheets for the day, edging his Australian team mate Mark Webber (1.26.172) into second place as the Red Bull team scattered a few seeds of doubt over the consensus that the gap to the rest of the grid was narrowing.
Nico Rosberg (1.26.322) was best of the rest on what would have been an encouraging day for Mercedes had he not later ground to a halt just moments after his team-mate Lewis Hamilton had driven over the gravel and into a wall.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean grabbed the fourth and fifth best times to confirm some impressive showings for Lotus in pre-season testing.
Twice world champion Fernando Alonso and his team-mate Felipe Massa had more competitive first than second sessions for Ferrari, finishing sixth and eighth fastest overall to sandwich the unfortunate Hamilton.
Hamilton had started brightly on a warm and sunny day at Albert Park and finished fourth quickest in the first session but faced the lonely walk back to the paddock after his crash just seven minutes from the end of the second.
German Adrian Sutil made an excellent start on his return to Force India after a year out of the sport by setting the ninth quickest time overall, outperforming not only his team mate Paul Di Resta but also both McLarens.
Jenson Button, who has won three of the last four Australian Grands Prix, only managed the 11th fastest time - 2.386 seconds off the pace - with his new team-mate, Mexican Sergio Perez, lapped 13th quickest.
None of the five rookie drivers set the world alight but Dutchman Giedo van der Garde had the worst of it, banking his Caterham on the trackside gravel after miscalculating the same turn six that later ruined Hamilton's day.
A third practice session takes place on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday's race. -Reuters
AUSTRALIAN GP - SECOND PRACTICE
1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull Racing - 1:25.908
2. Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull Racing - 1:26.172
3. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes - 1:26.322
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - 1:26.361
5. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - 1:26.680
6. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Scuderia Ferrari - 1:26.748
7. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 1:26.772
8. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Scuderia Ferrari - 1:26.855
9. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - 1:27.435
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Sauber - 1:28.187
11. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren Mercedes - 1:28.294
12. Paul di Resta (Britain) Force India - 1:28.311
13. Sergio Perez (Mexico) McLaren Mercedes - 1:28.566
14. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Scuderia Toro Rosso - 1:28.627
15. Esteban Gutierrez (Mexico) Sauber - 1:28.772
16. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams - 1:28.852
17. Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Scuderia Toro Rosso - 1:28.968
18. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams - 1:29.386
19. Jules Bianchi (France) Marussia - 1:29.696
20. Charles Pic (France) Caterham - 1:30.165
21. Max Chilton (Britain) Marussia - 1:30.600
22. Giedo van der Garde (Netherlands) Caterham - 1:32.450