Clark Chicane, Albert Park
The season’s opening practice coincides with Melbourne’s most schizophrenic weather, a stiff, squally wind carrying with it payloads of light rain before scurrying off across the park to cause mischief elsewhere. It only adds to the uncertainty already lent by the unknown detail of the cars’ form.
About the only thing that can be said with certainty is that the engines of Mercedes and Ferrari carry a more aggressive tone than last year, deeper and harder-edged under acceleration, the sound waves from the exhaust bouncing off the Albert Park walls more loudly at Turn Nine.
Everyone’s on inters in these early stages, including Lewis Hamilton. On his first attack lap of the season, he looks as though he’s headed for the gravel trap as he arrives at the braking area for the chicane, an outrageous approach speed for the cool, damp conditions. But as he trades braking with lateral grip,
the Mercedes simply points,
huge confidence for such an uncertain moment.
The wind is building, the protective tarpaulin of the marshalling post has broken free of one of its moorings, threatening to fly away onto the track, but it’s also blowing the clouds away at this part of the track, patches of bright blue peeking through the grey and
the sun is making the matt-finish livery of the Red Bull
In the latter part of the lap – from the exit of Turn 12 to the final corners, it’s still patchily wet and, as Daniil Kvyat gives it his first series of attack-lap sparks, rain light and spray vie for the lead role in the visual drama. Finally, the wind has blown away water not cleared by the cars’ passage and first out on slicks are the McLarens, quickly followed by most of the others.
The session’s briefly busy, during which time Ricciardo’s Red Bull goes fastest. But before anyone can retaliate, a dirty big black cloud is blown in and all those slick-shod heroes trail tentatively back to the protection of the pits as the still inters-shod Renaults run rings around them.