Michael Schumacher tops the time sheets at Albert Park but everyone is taking that result with a grain of salt as rain slows the opening practice for Formula One's season-opener, the Australian Grand Prix.
Michael Schumacher fastest as rain slows F1's parade in Melbourne
MELBOURNE // Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher set the fastest lap in practice ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, but nobody is reading too much into the result after a monsoon-like storm wrecked havoc on the first day of the new Formula One season.
Mercedes-GP's German driver left it late in the afternoon at Albert Park to usurp compatriot Nico Hulkenburg of Force India at the top of the timesheets.
Both sessions were interrupted by heavy rains that forced teams to remain in their pits for spells.
Both McLaren and Mercedes have been tipped to challenge champions Red Bull Racing this season, but Ross Brawn, the Mercedes team principal, said a mixture of the weather and different teams' set-ups means little was gleaned from Friday's three hours of track time.
"It's certainly better than being at the back," said Brawn after watching Schumacher clock a time 0.109s faster than Hulkenburg.
"The only reason I qualify it is that we have no idea what people are running on fuel-wise. We've had little windows of running on the dry. We're trying to get snapshots in these weather conditions of what's going on. It's been a reasonably encouraging start, but we're not getting carried away because different people were doing different things."
One team that was doing more than most was Hispania, who broke the governing body's curfew to work overnight preparing their car for practice.
HRT failed to partake in any of the three pre-season testing sessions and had managed only 10 laps during a filming day.
Friday they only got one car - that of Narain Karthikeyan - out on track during first practice, while in the afternoon Pedro de la Rosa was only able to complete an installation lap.
"For us it has been almost a success just to be here in Melbourne," said Luis Perez Sala, the team principal.
"We missed the crash tests at the beginning of February, and then until the end of that month we worked on trying to pass them. Then once we did that we had a filming day in Barcelona.
"Here, we worked the whole night last night to have the second car ready."
HRT has struggled financially throughout its two seasons in the sport and there are widespread doubts whether they have the resources to last the 20-race season.
Perez Sala dismissed such suggestions.
"I'm confident we can reach the end of the season and confident of the money," he said.
"The most important thing is to be here, as we are, and then to learn as much as possible. The team is quite tired after all the hard work they've put in over the last month, so I'd like them to relax a bit. Then in Malaysia and Shanghai I would like us to improve our pace."