Friday, March 25, 2011

McLaren's winter of discontent was banished in Melbourne as Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton went quickest during second practice for Sunday's opening grand prix.

The British pair's preparation for the new season has been dogged by problems to their car with both pace and reliability an issue but recent tweaks to their design seem to have paid off.

Red Bull and Ferrari were tipped to dominate the season but McLaren gave notice of the impact they could have on the title race as Button posted a fastest lap time of one minute 25.852 seconds in the afternoon session with Hamilton just 0.132 secs behind.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso wasn't far behind in third after a one minute 26.001 with defending world champion Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull, ahead of teammate Mark Webber in fourth.

CNN's Formula One season lowdown

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher was sixth in his Mercedes in an afternoon session hit by intermittent rain and wind.

After practice the 2009 world champion Button said: "Today showed that, first of all, we've got reliability -- which is great.

"That's something we've not had all winter, so to have a car that runs for as many laps as we want it to is very satisfying. It also means we can get stuck into our set-up work and improve the car.

"I don't think there's much to be gained from looking at today's times though, so I'm not going to get too carried away. Still, it's been a positive day because we've been able to do so much running and get a good feeling for the car on different fuel-loads.

"The new exhaust has definitely brought performance to the car -- it feels much better, makes the handling more complete."

Hamilton, who won the drivers' championship in 2008, said: "The car feels like an improvement over winter testing, but I'm not reading too much into the others' performance.

"Hopefully we can pick up some points this weekend -- I feel positive. We don't know what fuel loads the others are running, but our car feels like a big improvement from where we were just a few weeks ago."

Red Bull recorded a one-two in the morning session with Webber leading Vettel by 0.327 secs after posting a lap of one minute 26.831 secs.

Vettel told Formula One's official website: "It was an exciting start to the season, as there's always a lot going on in Melbourne. We were able to complete a lot of laps today, but the weather has been a bit difficult."

Schumacher was content after a solid day on the Albert Park track. He said: "My first impressions of the 2011 season are quite positive.

"We learned a lot today, and are more or less where we thought we would be, although it was quite windy and tricky to drive."


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