McLaren defied preseason perceptions by dominating the times in the second practice session for the Australian Grand Prix as Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton proved the only men to break through the 1m25sec barrier.
The session, which was run under race conditions for the last 30 minutes to test out the new overtaking zone, saw most of the fastest running take place, predictably, just before the hour mark when everyone tried the soft Pirelli option tire.
It was during this period that first Hamilton posted a 1m25.854sec, and then Button improved upon it to go 0.132sec faster still. Whether or not McLaren's pace is a true measure of the overall picture remains unclear however, for Red Bull's drivers, who dominated session one, were instructed not to use their adjustable rear wings for much of the session. In the end, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were unleashed, once they got onto the option tires, but neither could match Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, which ended the session third.
Michael Schumacher improved to sixth fastest in the Mercedes, having been fastest of all for a while. Felipe Massa, one of several drivers to run off-track during the session, was seventh.
Mexican rookie Sergio Perez was an impressive eighth fastest on his first grand prix day for Sauber, outpacing the sport's most experienced driver Rubens Barrichello, who was ninth for Williams – another to test the gravel runoff at Turn 3. Nico Rosberg completed the top 10 for Mercedes ahead of Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso and Vitaly Petrov in the Renault.
Another rookie, Paul di Resta deserved credit for outpacing teammate Adrian Sutil in 16th, while Pastor Maldonado was 18th on his first practice day for Williams.
It was not a stellar session for F1's newest teams. Both Lotus cars were the best part of five seconds off the pace, while the Virgins reduced the deficit to front from more than eight seconds in the morning to seven seconds in the afternoon.
HRT, which announced early in the session that it intended to complete installation laps only, managed to get Tonio Liuzzi out on track with two minutes remaining.
The test of drag reduction systems in the last half an hour of practice provided little indication of what might be to come in the race, and eventually was brought to a premature conclusion when rain began to fall in the last 10 minutes.
• Click here for a list of all reports from the teams following practice.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.854s 32
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.986s + 0.132 31
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m26.001s + 0.147 28
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m26.014s + 0.160 35
5. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m26.283s + 0.429 33
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.590s + 0.736 31
7. Massa Ferrari 1m26.789s + 0.935 34
8. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m27.101s + 1.247 39
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m27.280s + 1.426 34
10. Rosberg Mercedes 1m27.448s + 1.594 23
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.525s + 1.671 31
12. Petrov Renault 1m27.528s + 1.674 29
13. Heidfeld Renault 1m27.536s + 1.682 22
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.697s + 1.843 30
15. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m28.095s + 2.241 35
16. di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m28.376s + 2.522 33
17. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m28.583s + 2.729 31
18. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m29.386s + 3.532 29
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m30.829s + 4.975 22
20. Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m30.912s + 5.058 23
21. D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m32.106s + 6.252 36
22. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m32.135s + 6.281 30
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth No time 1
All Timing Unofficial