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Sutil quickest in intriguing opening session

NEWS STORY
12/03/2010

At long last the wait is over, the much anticipated 2010 Formula One World Championship season is underway as the 24 drivers prepare for the first practice session. While we don't expect any of the major questions to be answered today we will get some sort of feel of the relative pace and the gaps between the front-runners and backmarkers.

Ahead of this opening session, the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38 degrees. Being the desert, it is bright and sunny.

The lights go green and Jarno Trulli leads the way. One by one the cars come out for an installation lap.

While the row over McLaren's rear wing appears to have been settled - for now - a new row appears to be brewing over 'suspect' devices that have now appeared on the Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. The Woking team is understood to have a device - operated by the driver's left knee - which effectively stalls the rear wing.

Ten minutes into the session, all but Chandhok, Senna have di Grassi. Once they're running, this will be nothing more than a glorified practice session for HRT.

Twenty-five minutes into the session, after almost fifteen minutes of total inactivity, Kovalainen breaks the deadlock, heading down the pitlane in the Lotus. The Finn posts the first time of the day, crossing the line at an unrepresentative 2:07.702. Next time around he improves to 2:05.854.

As he improves to 2:05.486, Kovalainen is joined by teammate Trulli, after thirty-two minutes, only the Lotii have completed more than 2 laps. Following a minor detour, the Italian eventually crosses the line at 2:19.705.

Hamilton is the first of the big guns to come out, the McLaren driver heading down the pits forty minutes into the session. As the Englishman posts 57.759, teammate Button leaves the pits. In the HRT garage the mechanics are working furiously on both cars.

As Button begins his first flying lap, Webber , Kubica and Petrov get to work.

Button's first flying lap sees the world champion go second with a 59.588, next time around - having lost time in the final sector - he improves to 57.903. Kubica goes third with a 59.229.

At half-time, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher heads down the pitlane. Elsewhere, Webber posts 2:00.515 to go fourth.

As Hamilton raises the benchmark with a 57.163, Schumacher goes third with a 58.762 only to be demoted by former teammate Massa (58.179).

Button goes quickest with a 57.068, however, all eyes are on Alonso who goes fifth (58.683) on his debut for Ferrari.

Fifty minutes into the session, we're finally into the groove with all the big guns on track.

Rosberg goes third with a 57.766, ahead of Kubica, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Schumacher and Petrov. Elsewhere, Vettel is about to begin his first flying lap of the day.

Early days, but the Renaults are looking good, Kubica improving to third with a 57.570. The Top 7 - Button, Hamilton, Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso and Webber - are covered by 0.760.

Liuzzi pops up in eight, ahead of Schumacher, in the Force India, the Italian posting 57.919.

A 59.909 sees Alonso go quickest while Vettel can only manage thirteenth (2:00.137). Moments later Liuzzi improves to fifth (57.317).

Vettel is struggling for grip, the German has improves with a 59.289 but has slipped down to fourteenth.

Hulkenberg - another driver making his debut this weekend - goes ninth ahead of Schumacher. The seven-time champion is currently around 0.6s off his teammate's pace.

It's a Ferrari 1-2 as Massa goes second with a 57.055, just 0.146s off his teammate's pace. Button and Hamilton maintain the symmetry with third and fourth, ahead of Liuzzi, Kubica, Rosberg, Webber and Hulkenberg.

From out of nowhere, Sutil produces a 57.158 to go fourth. Early days, but Force India appears to be picking up where it left off at the end of 2009.

With just under thirty minutes remaining, still no times from Barrichello, Glock, di Grassi, Chandhok or Senna. Indeed the HRTs haven't even completed an installation lap.

"I'm burning," says Kovalainen, "my feet are burning, I'm coming in…" Which he duly does.

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