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By Alan Davies, Sports reporter
Friday, March 16, 2012
* Race distance: 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)
* Start time: 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)
* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles
* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)
* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)
* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team showed good pace in today’s (Friday’s) opening free practice sessions around the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne.
Jenson Button topped the morning timesheets ahead of second-fastest Hamilton, with the 27-year-old F1 star from Hertfordshire clocking a best lap time of 1m 27.805s.
The damp conditions meant McLaren’s drivers didn’t get much running in P2.
Nevertheless, 2008 F1 world champion Hamilton feels McLaren have a good platform from which to battle for strong grid positions in qualifying on Saturday.
“I’m massively excited to see how the rest of the weekend goes,” said Hamilton after practice.
“Our car feels there or thereabouts but, as in testing, we don’t know the fuel-loads the others were running: it still looks close between ourselves, Red Bull and Mercedes.
“It’s going to be interesting tomorrow – we’ll get a better understanding of who’s going to be quick.”
Of today’s practice programme, he said: “We spent the morning making sure we could switch the tyres on.
“Then, in the afternoon, we didn’t do any running in the wet because the forecast says it’s likely to be dry for the rest of the weekend.
“In those circumstances, it’s important to remain calm, look after the car and make sure we focus on the rest of the weekend.
“Tomorrow, it’ll be important to get out early in the session and maximise our dry running so that we can work on set-up and make sure our car is in the zone.”
Team-mate Button added: “There are still a few areas where I think we can improve, and we didn’t get as many laps in today as we’d have liked, but it’s been a positive day.
“We did some set-up work this morning and then spent the afternoon understanding how the car reacts when running wet or intermediate tyres.
“The weather didn’t help, but it’s been the same for everyone.
“Overall, I think we’re quite happy, but there’ll be a lot of discussion tonight as we choose our direction for tomorrow.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh hopes the weather stays dry for qualifying, and the grand prix on Sunday, to allow the MP4-27 to perform to its full potential.
He said: “With drier weather forecast for the remainder of the weekend, the focus now shifts to our engineers, who’ll be working hard to analyse the data in order to provide us with the best possible performance platform for tomorrow’s programme.
“If the showers hold off, it’ll be very important to hit the ground running in P3 tomorrow [Saturday] as a strong session will put us in a good position for tomorrow’s qualifying session.
“Despite the damp weather, today was a positive start to our weekend.”
Qualifying for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix starts at 6am (GMT) on Saturday.
* Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.