Sebastian Vettel began his championship defence by leading the first practice session of 2013 – but Ferrari weren’t far behind.
After the first 90 minutes of practice for the Australian Grand Prix Felipe Massa was just 0.078s slower than the Red Bull driver, with team mate Fernando Alonso third.
Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest on his first appearance for Mercedes.
The first half-hour of the session saw little running as the drivers preferred to keep an eye on track conditions and wait for their rivals to make a move. Toro Rosso blinked first, sending Daniel Ricciardo out for a run. His team mate soon joined him followed by the Caterhams and Marussias.
Kimi Raikkonen was among the first of the front-runners to do a stint, lowering the best to a 1’27.877.
The Mercedes pair got close to the time but Fernando Alonso was the first to beat it, improving on the Lotus’s mark by two tenths of a second.
That left Vettel as the only driver yet to set a time. With half an hour to go he duly took the top spot off the Ferrari, despite running wide at turn six.
Felipe Massa briefly reclaimed the top time but Vettel took it back with his next effort. Now it was Massa’s turn to make an error at turn four, after which he made no further gains.
In the latter stages of the session several drivers were clearly struggling for grip. Mark Webber reported his tyres were gone towards the end of the session and Ricciardo was having trouble with tyre vibrations.
Giedo van der Garde ran wide at turn one and more than one driver got onto the dirt at the exit of turn five. Jules Bianchi out-braked himself at turn three.
With two minutes to go Paul di Resta spun off at turn six but managed to extract his Force India from the gravel trap and get back on the track.
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Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty