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Vettel off to a flier as Red Bull set the pace in Melbourne

updated 7:49 AM EDT, Fri March 15, 2013
Sebastian Vettel could become only the third driver to win four consecutive world championships.
Sebastian Vettel could become only the third driver to win four consecutive world championships.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sebastian Vettel quickest in practice ahead of Australian Grand Prix
  • Sunday's race in Melbourne is the first of the 2013 Formula One season
  • Vettel first ahead of Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in second place
  • Mercedes' Nico Rosberg third fastest, Lewis Hamilton seventh

(CNN) -- New Formula One season, same old story. Triple world champion Sebastian Vettel began his quest for a fourth consecutive drivers' title by putting his Red Bull top of the timesheets in practice ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The German's lap of one minute and 25.908 seconds edged out teammate Mark Webber, who was second fastest.

"Overall it was a good day for us," the 25-year-old Vettel told the sport's official website. "After all the mileage of testing, it was fun to be out there -- this circuit doesn't get easier, it's a good challenge."

"Today was a good day and the balance was good, but we need to be ready for what's coming up."

Engines on, Formula 1 returns!
The 2013 Formula One season
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F1: 2013 season preview F1: 2013 season preview
Pastor Maldonado took the new Williams for a spin at Barcelona on February 19 following the launch at Circuit de Catalunya. Pastor Maldonado took the new Williams for a spin at Barcelona on February 19 following the launch at Circuit de Catalunya.
F1 teams unveil 2013 cars
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Flyover: Australian Grand Prix

Read: New F1 season, new thrills?

The nearest challenger to the Red Bull drivers was Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who continued to show the pace which saw him go faster than any other driver during preseason testing.

For Rosberg's teammate, Lewis Hamilton, this weekend will be his first grand prix since ending a 15-year association with McLaren.

It wasn't an ideal start to a new chapter in his career for the 2008 world champion, with Hamilton ending the day seventh fastest after sliding off the track during what looked to be a promising lap.

"Overall it was a good day, if perhaps not the smoothest," reflected Hamilton. "I'm happy with where we are and to see Nico in third place on the timesheets shows that we're pretty competitive.

"That's a reflection of a great job that everyone has done at the factory and here at the track. I'm looking forward to the rest of the weekend."

Friday's practice at Albert Park took place in favorable conditions, although wet weather is predicted for qualifying on Saturday.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who was sixth fastest, expects conditions to change completely, while he also doubts the Italian team will be able to compete at the front of the grid in Melbourne.

"Our efforts were helped by particularly favourable weather with sunshine and summery temperatures," explained the double world champion.

"However, the weather is expected to change completely from tomorrow, with wind, rain and a significant drop in temperature, which could influence Sunday's race.

"I'm not expecting any major surprises here, we already knew we were not the quickest and that was confirmed today. The car responds well, but we know there is still much to do if we want to fight with the very best."

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