Mark Webber and Red Bull made the perfect start to the 2011 season by going fastest in opening free practice for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Though it's too soon for most of the questions over 2011 form to be answered, it seems at least that predictions about the competitiveness of the new RB7 were correct as both Webber and World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel spent long periods of the 90-minute session at the top of the times. The pair ended up locking up the first two positions fairly easily.
In the end Webber's 1m26.831sec, set on a new set of Pirelli's hard prime tires on the final lap of the session ensured he fired an early shot to Vettel, the German ending up some 0.0327sec behind after a late run of his own.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third fastest, more than half a second behind Vettel, ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg.
Rubens Barrichello, now fully recovered from his travel dramas, set an impressive fifth-fastest time late in the session for Williams ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton who both showed respectable pace throughout the morning to go sixth and seventh in the revised MP4-26, which sported a simplified exhaust similar to that of Red Bull and Ferrari.
Michael Schumacher was eighth fastest ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, whose Sauber shed part of its engine cover late in the session. Vitaly Petrov completed the top ten for Renault.
The session was relatively incident free, though several drivers had off-track moments, including Webber and Felipe Massa, who ended the session 11th ahead of Nick Heidfeld.
Only Karun Chandhok hit the wall in the Lotus, as he exited the pits at the start of the session. On cold tires the Indian's car appeared to snap right and spun him straight into the wall, forcing Heikki Kovalainen to take on development duties for the team.
Virgins Jerome d'Ambrosio and Timo Glock were some 8sec off the pace as Virgin flirts with the prospect of the 107 percent qualifying cut-off in qualifying while neither HRT ventured on track at all.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m26.831s + 20
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m27.158s + 0.327 19
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m27.749s + 0.918 20
4. Rosberg Mercedes 1m28.152s + 1.321 16
5. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m28.430s + 1.599 24
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.440s + 1.609 29
7. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m28.483s + 1.652 26
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1m28.690s + 1.859 14
9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m28.725s + 1.894 13
10. Petrov Renault 1m28.765s + 1.93 15
11. Massa Ferrari 1m28.842s + 2.011 20
12. Heidfeld Renault 1m28.928s + 2.097 14
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m29.314s + 2.483 19
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m29.328s + 2.497 21
15. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m29.403s + 2.572 24
16. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m29.468s + 2.637 23
17. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m29.643s + 2.812 18
18. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m31.002s + 4.171 20
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1m32.428s + 5.597 13
20. d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m35.282s + 8.451 17
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m35.289s + 8.458 15
22. Chandhok Lotus-Cosworth 1:30.695 + 4.894 1
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth no time
24. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth no time
All Timing Unofficial