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The season starts - but what inferences can be drawn? 07 Mar 2003

A flowing water sculpture at the F1 paddock entrance.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 5 March 2003

McLarens quickest, Renault third, Michael Schumacher only sixth...

What did the first official practice session of the 2003 season mean?

Straight out of the box Schumacher had set the pace, quickly cutting down below the 1m 28.125s lap with which Trulli had headed the morning's test session. As Juan Pablo Montoya spun before pushing up to second place, chased by team-mate Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, the situation was as one might have expected it to be. But then there was Fernando Alonso thrusting his Renault up into third place, and Mark Webber looking strong for Jaguar, both clearly benefiting from the laps they had done in the test session.

But by the end of the hour, it was the two McLaren Mercedes of Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard that topped the times, with laps of 1m 26.509s and 1m 26.988s respectively. And Trulli had jumped up to third on 1m 27.286s from Barrichello (1m 27.459s) and Webber (1m 27.654s). Schumacher was sixth on 1m 27.666s, the time he'd set early on.

The Ferraris of course, were running a lot of fuel. And now that qualifying is concentrated into just one flying lap on Saturday afternoon, Friday morning has become the time in which teams do their race preparation, honing the cars' set-ups on high fuel loads. It looked good for McLaren, but did it mean anything? That remained to be seen when the fuel came out for afternoon qualifying session.

Neither Williams driver improved on their initial 1m 27.929s and 1m 28.982s laps (Montoya and Ralf Schumacher respectively), as they too focused on race set-up.

There were plenty of spins - besides Montoya, Raikkonen,. Webber, Wilson and Verstappen rotated. And while Olivie Panis stopped with an undisclosed mechanical failure - "not the engine" according to a team insider - both BARs ate their Honda motors within 10 laps and Fisichella also stopped on the circuit.