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Vettel dominates day one of new season

World champion Sebastian Vettel put his rivals firmly in their place.

Sebastian Vettel

MELBOURNE - Sebastian Vettel, embarking on his quest for a fourth successive world title, steered the car he has nicknamed 'Hungry Heidi' around the Melbourne street circuit in 1.25.908 half an hour before the end of the second session.

That lap topped the time sheets for the day, edging his Australian team mate Mark Webber (1.26.172) into second place as the Red Bull team scattered a few seeds of doubt over the consensus that the gap to the rest of the grid was narrowing.

"Overall it was a good day for us, it was pretty seamless and there was no trouble with the car," the 25-year-old Vettel told reporters.

"After all the mileage of testing, it was fun to be out there - this circuit doesn't get easier, it's a good challenge."

Nico Rosberg (1.26.322) was the best of the rest on what would have been an encouraging day for Mercedes had he not later ground to a halt with a gearbox problem moments after team mate Lewis Hamilton had driven over the gravel and into a wall.

Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, third in the championship last year, and Romain Grosjean grabbed the fourth and fifth best times to confirm some impressive showings for Lotus in pre-season testing.

Twice world champion Fernando Alonso and his team mate Felipe Massa had more competitive first than second sessions for Ferrari, finishing sixth and eighth fastest overall to sandwich the unfortunate Hamilton.

"We already knew we were not the quickest and that was confirmed today," said Spaniard Alonso, runner-up in the championship last year.

"The weather is expected to change completely from tomorrow, with wind, rain and a significant drop in temperature, which could influence Sunday's race."

Hamilton had started brightly on a warm and sunny day at Albert Park and finished fourth quickest in his first practice session for Mercedes after his switch from McLaren.

Hamilton, 2008 world champion, faced the lonely walk back to the paddock seven minutes from the end of the second session; however, after a crash the team said had been caused by a bodywork problem which caused him to understeer.

"Overall it was a good day, if perhaps not the smoothest," said the Briton. "I'm happy with where we are and to see Nico in third place on the timesheets shows that we're pretty competitive.

"The Red Bull is massively quick as it always is," he added. "They've obviously been sand-bagging it the whole time in winter as expected and all of a sudden they've pulled out (that) time."

German Adrian Sutil made an excellent start on his return to Force India after a year out of the sport by setting the ninth quickest time overall, outperforming not only his team mate Paul Di Resta but also both McLarens.

A third practice session takes place on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday's race.

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