McLaren surprised most pundits by setting the fastest times in practice for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Jenson Button led the way with a lap of one minute 25.852 seconds just beating his team-mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.132secs. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was 0.147secs behind in third with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber next.
McLaren had been struggling in pre-season testing, but they appear to have sorted out any issues they had with the car and now look set to be major title contenders once again this season.
“The surprise of the session is McLaren, in qualifying mode with free use of the moveable rear wing,” said BBC F1 pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz.
“Button’s 18-lap run on a single set of tyres in first practice showed remarkably little tyre drop. This new exhaust system and the new front wing has definitely delivered the improvement they were looking for. Whether it is one second per lap, we’ll have to wait and see in qualifying.”
Button was delighted with the performance of the car and hoped that it was a sign of things to come:
“Reliability 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. The new exhaust has definitely brought performance to the car – it feels much better, makes the handling more ‘complete’. When you have downforce at the rear, you can also add it at the front, and then you put temperature in the tyres – there’s so much that comes with downforce.”
Lewis Hamilton was also much happier with the car:
“The grip level today felt like a big step forward. 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.”