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Ferrari quick, Mercedes dominant in Australian GP practice
Last Updated: 2015-03-13 23:56 | Xinhua
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Sebastian Vettel has impressed in his first official outing for Ferrari but it was Mercedes which maintained its domination on the field after the first practice sessions at the F1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

Nico Rosberg pipped his Mercedes teammate, defending champion Lewis Hamilton, for top spot in both sessions with his best time of the day, in one minute 27.697 seconds in the second session, edging out the Briton by 0.1 seconds.

Vettel, who switched to F1 stalwarts Ferrari after winning four titles with rival team Red Bull, was best of the rest, clocking 1:28.412 to be 0.715 off the pace.

Sauber's court case with rogue driver Giedo van der Garde kept its cars in the garage for the first session, Fernando Alonso's replacement recorded the first crash of the new season, and rookie Carlos Sainz exceeded expectations by placing in the top 10 in both sessions.

Mercedes picked up from where it left off last year, when it won all but three races, by scorching the field in Melbourne.

Rosberg took first blood in the opening practice of the season with a careful 1:29.557 lap fractionally ahead of Hamilton (1:29:586).

In the evening session, Rosberg's early laps on medium tires gave fellow German Vettel a chance to temporarily occupy top spot on the time sheet.

But the four-time champion was immediately displaced by Rosberg and Hamilton once the pair's cars joined Vettel on the softer, quicker tires as they blitzed their competition.

The Mercedes-powered cars also enjoyed the superb reliability on the Albert Park street circuit, allowing the Mercedes and Williams-Mercedes teams to practice strategies for the opening race of the season on Sunday.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen (4th in second session, 1:28.842) were able to edge ahead of the rest of the field but, at more than half-a-second in arrears, Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene joked that the Mercedes-powered cars would need to pull to the side of the road if the Italian manufacturer was to challenge for the win this weekend.

"If Claire (Williams, Williams-Mercedes team principal) or Toto (Wolff, Mercedes team principal) give an order to stop their cars, we would appreciate it," he jokingly told a media conference on Friday.

As contract issues between Sauber and van der Garde continued to play out in the local courts, the F1 team only clocked times in the second session once court proceedings were pushed to Saturday.

Felipe Nasr, who remains unsure if he will drive in Sunday's race, made up for lost time by posting 33 laps but could only manage 11th on the time table, more than three seconds adrift of the pacesetter, Rosberg.

Nasr's Swedish teammate, Marcus Ericsson, fared worse with a 1:33.289 lap his best before breaking his left rear suspension at the final turn of his 14th lap.

The only car worse than Ericsson in the second session was Kevin Magnussen, the stand in for injured Alonso. His team McLaren-Honda was barely able to lift itself off the bottom of the time sheet in both sessions on Friday with new problems appearing as quickly as the team could fix them.

Magnussen, who took Alonso's place after the Spaniard champion was concussed in a pre-season crash, ended his day early with an impromptu meeting with a wall - his speeding through Turn 6 costing him the front of his car. The Dane's best time (1:33.289) was more than five-and-a-half seconds off the pace.

The only non-Mercedes driver to win a race last year, Red Bull's Daniel Riccardo, struggled and only clocked the 10th quickest time (1:31.570) in the first session before engine trouble saw the Australian sit out the second session.

At Riccardo's sister team, Toro Rosso, 17-year-old Max Verstappen showed some early pace but was upstaged by 20-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sainz who clocked the fourth-fastest time of first practice (1:31:014) before grabbing seventh spot in the later run (1:30.071).

Manor GP, which has been out of administration for just two weeks after the collapse of its predecessor Marussia, did not put a car out on track all day. Its team principal, Graeme Lowdon, said the mountain of problems the team was working through made it doubtful it would race this weekend.

"I would say the problems we are dealing with are not unusual but they take time," Lowdon said. "We'll put our best effort in, deal with each problem in sequence, and give our best efforts to run this weekend."

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