Schumi rolls back the years
Veteran Michael Schumacher yesterday upstaged Formula One’s princelings as he made a rare return to the top of the timings in rain-hit practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The seven-time champion, 43, rolled back the years with a best lap of one minute and 29.183 seconds in his Mercedes in the final minute of a dramatic first day’s action at Albert Park.
The lap lifted him ahead of fellow German Nico Hulkenberg by one-tenth of a second, the Mercedes-powered Force India driver having been on top for most of a closely-fought final 10 minutes.
Two-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel was left way down in 10th after many drivers switched to faster, soft tyres in the last minutes as the track finally dried.
It was the first time Schumacher had finished a practice day on top of the standings since he ended his retirement in 2010. He was quickest in morning practice at Belgium last year, before being overhauled in the later session.
“The car feels positive, we have an excellent machine. We all anticipate a dry weekend from here on, so we weren’t too bothered by the rain,” said the German, who had retired in 2006 on 91 victories.
“For me, this is a very good start and we are feeling pretty optimistic I have to say!”
Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber was third quickest ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi in the second Sauber.
Most of the leading drivers opted to jump on to soft tyres in the final minutes as the track dried, resulting in a topsy-turvy leaderboard.
Britain’s Paul Di Resta took sixth in the second Force India and Brazilian Felipe Massa was seventh for Ferrari, ahead of Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen of Caterham and ninth-placed Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes.
Red Bull’s Vettel was one spot ahead of his Australian team-mate Mark Webber, who timed 11th.
“Maybe we did not get everything we needed but we can be quite happy in the end. This morning, it was not very good. I wasn’t happy at all in the car,” Vettel said.
“But this afternoon was better but with the conditions it is difficult to get a lot of running. It’s more or less the same for all of us.”
The 2009 champion Jenson Button, who was fastest in the earlier opening session, wound up in 15th for McLaren ahead of British team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
The Hispania team had some good news when their veteran Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa managed to glide out of the pits for the first time in his car, built up and finished by the team after an all-night shift by the mechanics.