After three hours of running in Melbourne, the fog of the winter pre-season has finally begun to clear.
Lotus, like Mercedes and Ferrari, looks quite competitive, but “The front row will be all Red Bull,” said Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton agreed: “They (Red Bull) have obviously been sand-bagging the whole time in winter as expected.
“But I don’t feel we’re miles away.”
With Mercedes confirming its pre-season promise, and McLaren definitely struggling in Australia, Hamilton’s winter switch now seems inspired.
“I’m not sure what’s happening with the McLaren but I’m sure they’ll fix it because they’re just a fantastic team,” said the 2008 world champion.
“The Red Bulls are obviously very quick, the Ferraris are massively competitive, and I think also the Lotus,” Hamilton added.
The 28-year-old Briton, however, was beaming as he talked about the pace of his silver W04.
“I can’t believe it. I’m massively excited to be up there,” said Hamilton.
With Sebastian Vettel on top in both sessions, though, Red Bull looks the favourite for pole and victory, but the team’s Dr Helmut Marko is not getting carried away.
“I expect a tough race between Webber, Raikkonen, Mercedes and Ferrari,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
McLaren is the name obviously missing from Marko’s list. “It was one of the hardest days I can recall,” said the British team’s careworn boss Martin Whitmarsh.
Rain is forecast for qualifying, but – despite fears its dry tyres would fall apart in Australia – Pirelli’s Paul Hembery seemed relieved late on Friday.
He did, however, describe the supersoft as “very much a qualifying tyre”, but is expecting strategists to devise two or three stop strategies for Sunday.
“From our point of view that’s in line,” said the Briton.