Sebastian Vettel led a Red Bull one-two and looked equipped to hunt down a fourth straight Formula One world title during practice on Friday for the Australian Grand Prix.
The German dominated both 90-minute sessions, vying for top spot with veteran Australian teammate Mark Webber.
The first day of the 2013 season was the first indication of the team’s speed after topsy-turvy results from a rainswept Catalunya track in Spain during pre-season testing.
Using the new Pirelli supersoft tyres, Vettel sliced more than a second from his pacesetting time in the first session.
His Red Bull teammate Webber leapfrogged the German with 40 minutes left but, five minutes later, Vettel had reinforced his brilliance.
He set the first lap under the 1 minute 26 second mark for the day.
Vettel jumped back to the head of the list with a 1m25.908s time, ahead of Webber’s 1m26.172s lap.
However, he believed more performance could be squeezed from the car and also was wary of impending rain during qualifying on Saturday.
“Today we were very happy, but tomorrow’s another day,” Vettel said. “There’s room for improvement.
“But we are also aware that the conditions could change (on Saturday).
“As we can’t predict how much that will impact the tyres and car balance, we need to be ready to change things.”
Webber chose his words carefully, but admitted the Pirelli tyres, which degrade much more quickly than those used previously in the sport, had caused issues.
“It was a pretty positive day for us, but there are still areas to improve on,” Webber said.
“The tyres are certainly interesting, but that’s how they are. It’s the same for everyone.
“It was actually not a bad day.”
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg took revenge on new teammate Lewis Hamilton when he finished third quickest, two-tenths of a second behind Webber.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen continued his challenge moving from sixth fastest in the opening session to fourth in the second period.
Hamilton dropped to seventh while the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso also slipped down the order.
Nearing the end of the session, Hamilton speared off the track into a tyre wall but was unhurt while Webber spun and resumed running.
Australian Torro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo reversed the positions from the first session with teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, finishing 14th quickest, three spots ahead of the French driver.
Ricciardo said his improvement came from a series of changes to the car after the opening session during which he had trailed Vergne throughout.
“In first free practice, it was soon clear that in terms of balance and set-up, we were not where we wanted to be so we made some changes and they helped,” Ricciardo said.
“I definitely feel we made progress from morning to afternoon, but not enough, so there is more to do overnight to find more pace.
“It’s nice to be racing at home in Australia again, which is an added incentive to work really hard to get the car to go quicker and give the fans something to cheer about on Sunday.”