Mark Webber set the fastest time in the dying moments of the first practice session in Melbourne.
The Red Bull driver hit the top of the times early in the session but was overhauled by Sebastian Vettel shortly afterwards. Vettel posted a 1’27.739 but by the end of his stint his tyres had visibly deteriorated.
The Ferrari of Fernando Alonso split the pair of them later in the session, falling short of the fastest time by just a hundredth of a second.
In the final minutes the Red Bulls took to the track again and Webber briefly saw the top of the times again – only to be pegged back by his team mate once more.
But Webber had a little more in hand and with his final lap of the session lowered the best time to a 1’26.831.
The two Mercedes also showed some potential – at one point Nico Rosberg did the fastest time over the first two sectors before backing off in the third.
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were sixth and seventh having made an early start to the session in the revised McLaren.
But Karun Chandhok had a disastrous return to F1 with Lotus as he crashed on his first lap. The T128 snapped right as he accelerated out of turn three, putting him in the barrier.
He at least got further than F1’s other Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan. He and team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi spent the session in the pits while the HRT mechanics scrambled to get their cars finished.
Several drivers had off-track moments during the session including Felipe Massa, who had a particularly large lock-up at the first corner.
Virgin were well off the pace in the first session and failed to lap within 7% of the fastest time by 2.3 seconds.
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Browse all 2011 Australian Grand Prix articles