Sebastian Vettel topped the first practice session of the 2013 season at the Australian Grand Prix, setting a 1:27.211 to end up a tenth of a second clear of Ferrari's Felipe Massa in second.
The early pecking order was more or less in line with the pre-season predictions, with Red Bull still very much in the running, Ferrari on form and McLaren a little way off. Mercedes was also in the mix with Lewis Hamilton fourth fastest, just 0.005s off Fernando Alonso's third-place time and 0.341 off the lead Red Bull.
However, the times should still be treated with some caution as the track conditions on the parkland circuit are still slippery and each driver only had one set of medium tyres to play with. The session got off to a very slow start as teams held back in fear of graining their limited tyre stock on the dirty track surface, and after the installation laps it took over 30 minutes for the Toro Rossos and Marussias to finally get the show on the road.
It wasn't until the final half hour that the drivers started to show an indication of their pace, with Vettel and the Ferraris exchanging fastest laps. The top seven cars, including the two Red Bulls, two Ferraris, two Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus were all split by a second, with the noticeable absence from the top eight being the McLarens. Adrian Sutil in the Force India was eighth fastest ahead of Jenson Button in ninth, Romain Grosjean in tenth and Sergio Perez in 11th.
Both McLaren drivers had played down expectations on Thursday, admitting the car was not exactly where they had hoped it to be going into the first race. However, to write off the team after one practice session would be foolish as the track is set to improve a lot over the course of the weekend and the super-soft tyres have not yet been used
Outside the top 11, Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta led the two Williamses of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas. Di Resta slid off the track towards the end of the session at turn six after putting a wheel on the grass on corner entry. Massa also ran wide at turn six on one of his later runs and a number of drivers got caught out on the exit of turn four as they searched for the limit in the fast right hander.
Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez finished the session 16th ahead of the two Toro Rossos while the Marussias and Caterhams propped up the bottom of the timesheets as normal. However, there were signs of promise from Marussia's Jules Bianchi who was within 0.3s of Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso.