Melbourne: Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel sounded an early alarm bell for Ferrari at Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, saying he was lacking confidence in his car after a disappointing run in Friday practice.
After being pipped by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes in the first session at Albert Park, Vettel was a glaring 0.873 seconds slower than the front-running Briton in the second practice and complained of handling problems on the team radio.
The German skidded into trackside grass at one corner and said the car was still wobbly at turns on another run after taking it back to the garage for work.
His new teammate Charles Leclerc also had a big spin late in FP2 and managed only the ninth fastest time in an underwhelming debut for the Scuderia.
With Ferrari having been slightly quicker than Mercedes at winter testing, pundits were quick to suspect the team were keeping their true pace under wraps for Saturday qualifying.
Vettel torpedoed the notion, saying the car simply felt different to the one tested in Barcelona.
“I had this (feeling) more than once. I can feel I have the car under me that I had in testing but it doesn’t do the same thing,” said Vettel, bidding for a third successive win at Albert Park.
“It’s not doing exactly what I like here and there so that’s why I’m lacking confidence.
“At this point we are all flat out trying to understand what happened in the session.”
After winter testing, Hamilton said he thought Ferrari a half-second quicker than Mercedes. He reiterated that Mercedes had plenty of “work to do” in Thursday’s media conference.
But the Briton and team mate Valtteri Bottas ended up leading a Mercedes one-two in the FP2, as the Silver Arrows again appeared to have set the benchmark.
“What was all that about them (saying) ‘oh, we’re so out of shape’ and so on?” Vettel said. “I didn’t understand that, to be honest. So it was a bit of a surprise.”
An upbeat Hamilton was in a very different mood. “I have a positive buzz from driving the car today,” he said. “The car feels like it’s in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona (testing), which is positive coming to a different track. We got through our programme really well, there were no issues on track.”
It was also an encouraging session for Kimi Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo, the team formerly known as Sauber.
The Finnish former world champion, who switched from Ferrari, was sixth fastest in the second practice, giving the rebooted outfit hope of being “the best of the rest”.
It looked like being a tight midfield battle, however, with both Renaults nipping at Raikkonen’s heels. Nico Hulkenberg and home hope Daniel Ricciardo, who switched from Red Bull, were seventh and eighth fastest respectively in FP2.
British-born Thai debutant Alexander Albon had a tough day, crashing his Toro Rosso to lose his front wing and cause a brief halt in the first session. He later spun off track several times in the second.
Williams appear set for another season of toil as their Polish driver Robert Kubica, returning to Formula One after an absence of more than eight years, was 20th in second practice, one place behind rookie teammate George Russell.
Australian GP, 8.30am
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