Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel assumed his habitual position at the top of the timing screens right from opening practice for Australian Grand Prix as the new season got underway in Melbourne on Friday morning.
Ferrari was the Red Bull driver's nearest rival, with Felipe Massa just 0.078 second away in second place and Fernando Alonso third. Lewis Hamilton took an encouraging fourth for Mercedes.
Local boy Daniel Ricciardo had the honor of being the first man on track in an official F1 2013 session, and also set the year's first flying lap with a 1m36.089s. Nearly 40 minutes elapsed between those achievements, as teams waited in the pits after their installation laps in the hope that others would clear the dust from the circuit.
Ricciardo battled for the top spot with Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne for a while before the leading teams began setting the pace.
Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen was the first of the big guns to show his hand, eventually working down to a 1m27.877s. Alonso beat that mark by 0.3sec five minutes later. Vettel did not start chasing lap times until the final half an hour, ultimately deposing Alonso with a 1m27.320s.
Ferrari fought back as Massa edged ahead by 0.031sec, but the Brazilian's time in first place was fleeting, as Vettel immediately improved to 1m27.211s. That kept him on top to the end. The Ferraris remained in second and third ahead of Hamilton.
Mark Webber and Raikkonen rounded out the top six, with Nico Rosberg seventh in the second Mercedes.
Adrian Sutil's F1 comeback began well in eighth. Jenson Button, in ninth, was split from McLaren teammate Sergio Perez by Romain Grosjean's Lotus.
Several drivers, particularly those in the tail-end cars, skittered across the grass and run-off areas. The only incident of significance came in the final moments, when Paul di Resta brushed the grass on the approach to Turn 5 and spun his Force India sideways into the gravel trap, from which he was surprisingly able to haul himself out.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m27.211s 16
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m27.289s + 0.078s 17
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m27.547s + 0.336s 16
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.552s + 0.341s 18
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m27.668s + 0.457s 18
6. Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1m27.877s + 0.666s 17
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m28.013s + 0.802s 17
8. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m28.426s + 1.215s 19
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.440s + 1.229s 19
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m28.520s + 1.309s 15
11. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.597s + 1.386s 19
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m28.786s + 1.575s 19
13. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m28.910s + 1.699s 18
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m29.443s + 2.232s 20
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m29.928s + 2.717s 19
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m30.203s + 2.992s 17
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m30.729s + 3.518s 17
18. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m30.969s + 3.758s 19
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m31.263s + 4.052s 24
20. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m32.176s + 4.965s 23
21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m32.274s + 5.063s 21
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m32.388s + 5.177s 18
All timing unofficial