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In the NICO of time

Rosberg quickest in both sessions at the season-opening GP practice; Hamilton struggles, finishes 18th.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2009 00:46 IST
Alan Baldwin

Williams’ Nico Rosberg dominated Formula One's first day of practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday while McLaren's world champion Lewis Hamilton languished near the bottom of the timesheets.

Rosberg lapped quickest in both sessions at a sunny Albert Park while Hamilton was 18th of the 20 drivers in the second.

Only Renault's Brazilian Nelson Piquet and 20-year-old Swiss rookie Sebastien Buemi in a Toro Rosso were slower than the Briton.

On the first appearance of the new-look, slick-tyred Formula One cars at a grand prix weekend, last year's pecking order appeared to have been turned on its head by the radical new regulations.

The three teams using controversial rear diffusers - Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams — showed why their rivals are so concerned after they filled six of the top seven places in a second session held late in the afternoon.

The trio had been subjected to protests on Thursday by other teams, who argued their cars were illegal, before stewards cleared them for Sunday's season opener pending appeal.

Rosberg, who finished third in Melbourne last year but otherwise struggled for points, led Japanese team mate Kazuki Nakajima in a Williams one-two in the first practice.

His best time of one minute, 26.053 in the second session was 0.104 quicker than Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in the Brawn and well inside the 2008 pole of 1:26.714 set by Hamilton. “It's been a positive day, we've gone better than I expected,” Rosberg, son of Finland's 1982 champion Keke, told reporters. “My hopes are higher than they were before that we can definitely score consistent points.

“Definitely we've done a nice step forwards ... I think we are going to be able to enjoy ourselves for the first few races."

Sun glare a headache for drivers

The switch to a twilight start at the Australian Grand Prix may suit European television viewers, but is less than ideal for the drivers.Friday’s second practice session ran from 4.30 pm to 6 pm local time, in preparation for Sunday’s 5 pm race start, and drivers found difficulties with the setting sun over the Albert Park circuit.

“It was a little bit worse than practice one and last year because the sun is quite low at this time,” Renault's Fernando Alonso said. Drivers can use special visors to suit the conditions, but Alonso said the visibility of cars in driver mirrors was also reduced. The GP start time was moved back to allow European fans to see the race at breakfast time.