Formula One

           === F1 set to kick off 2014 season in Land Down Under ===
 Melbourne,  Australia (  - After  months of  preparation and
 testing,  11 teams and 22 drivers are ready to get the 2014 Formula One season
 underway with this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.
 There's  a  lot  of  uncertainty  for  teams  entering  the  season-opener  in
 Melbourne,  and  it's anyone's guess as  to who will  do well and who won't in
 Sunday's  58-lap race. This season is featuring one of the biggest set of rule
 changes in the history of F1, especially the technical regulations.
 This year's cars are equipped with a new 1.6-liter, V6 turbocharged power unit
 (engine),  which  relies heavily  on  hybrid  technology. There's  also  major
 alterations to the exterior designs of the cars. Aerodynamic changes have been
 made to reduce downforce.
 Practice  took  place at  Melbourne's  Albert  Park  Circuit on  Friday,  with
 Fernando  Alonso from  Ferrari  leading the  way in  the  opening session  and
 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton topping the time charts in the second practice.
 During P1, Alonso turned a lap around this 5.303-kilometer (3.3-mile), 16-turn
 circuit  in 1 minute, 31.840 seconds, which was a half-second quicker than his
 closest  competitor, McLaren's Jenson Button, who has won the Australian GP in
 three  of the last five years. Alonso was third in P2, behind the Mercedes duo
 of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
 "On the first Friday of the season, there's always a bit more tension," Alonso
 said.  "It's  the start  of a  new championship,  and there  is the feeling of
 general  expectation to  see how  things we  worked on  during the  winter are
 functioning. Overall, this was a positive day for us, and even if there was an
 element  of  nervousness because  of  the  complexity  introduced by  the  new
 technical  regulations, everything went well. The team did a super job, and we
 had no problems."
 Hamilton,  though, had a  troubling session in P1, as he stopped on track just
 after  a single  lap. The  2008  F1 world  champion encountered  a faulty  oil
 pressure sensor, which caused a precautionary engine shutdown in his Mercedes.
 Hamilton  bounced back  nicely in  P2, completing  37 laps.  His best  lap was
 clocked in 1:29.625 37.
 "It  really  was a day  of two halves [Friday],"  Hamilton said. "While it was
 disappointing to not get any track time this morning, these little hiccups are
 going to happen with the new cars, and we'll have to get used to that. It felt
 like  I  was on  the back foot  from there, but  then we  got up to pace quite
 quickly in P2 and found the balance relatively fast.
 "I  feel quite comfortable  in the car, so overall, it's a positive start, but
 we  need  to look at the  data now and understand  where we are. We got a nice
 foundation for the weekend in the second session, so hopefully we can build on
 that in P3 [Saturday] and then see where we are in qualifying."
 After  a frustrating past few months in pre-season testing in Jerez, Spain and
 Sakhir,  Bahrain,  four-time reigning world  champion Sebastian Vettel and Red
 Bull,  winner of  the F1  constructors' title  the past  four years,  had much
 better results in practice for the Australian GP than it did in testing.
 Vettel  did not  get on  track in  P1 until  nearly one-hour  had expired.  He
 recorded  just 10 laps during the session, with his best lap in 1:32.793, good
 for  seventh-place. In  P2, Vettel significantly increased his track time with
 41 laps. He finished fourth in that session (1:30.381).
 "In  a way, it's  a relief today, the fact that we were running, and we didn't
 have  any problems,  and  the  balance was  good  and  the performance  looked
 alright," Vettel said. "In the end, Friday times are not worth a lot, but it's
 better  to be close  to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I'm
 very happy with that.
 "We  will  do what we  can to  prepare for tomorrow  and Sunday, but let's see
 where we are then. The most important thing is that we finish."
 Vettel  started  on the pole and  finished third in last year's Australian GP.
 Kimi  Raikkonen,  who is back with  Ferrari this season, is the defending race
 Vettel's  new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who is the only Australian competing
 in this year's race, was not too shabby in practice, finishing fifth in P1 and
 sixth in P2. Ricciardo is taking over Mark Webber's seat at Red Bull following
 Webber's retirement at the end of last season.
 "I  think we  have  to be  pretty  positive  with where  we  ended up  today,"
 Ricciardo  said. "Let's  see if it's the same story after qualifying tomorrow,
 but for today, we're pleased."
 Series: Formula One. Date: Sunday, March 16. Race: Australian Grand Prix.
 Site: Albert Park Circuit. Track: 3.3-mile (5.303-kilometer), 16-turn
 temporary street circuit. Start Time: 2 a.m. ET. Laps: 58. Miles: 191.110
 (307.574 km). 2013 Winner: Kimi Raikkonen. Television: NBC Sports Network.
 03/14 15:57:55 ET

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