Raikkonen and Hamilton set practice pace

Updated: 2008-03-14 15:45

MELBOURNE - Ferrari's world champion Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton renewed their rivalry at the top of the timesheets in practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

Ferrari Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of Finland talks to the media outside his team garage in pit land following the second timed practice session at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, March 14, 2008. The season's opening Formula One race will be held here on Sunday March 16. [Agencies] 

Raikkonen laid down an early marker for Sunday's race, scorching round Albert Park in one minute 26.461 seconds during the 90-minute first session run under clear skies and in 36 degree Celsius heat.

Last year's overall runner-up Hamilton, second in the morning, asserted himself later with the 23-year-old Briton lapping in 1:26.559 to oust Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber from the afternoon top spot.

Raikkonen won in Melbourne last year on his Ferrari debut and the Finn will be chasing a third successive victory after ending 2007 on a high with triumphs in China and Brazil taking him to the title by a single point.

Ferrari and McLaren, between them winners of every race last year, dominated the field in the first session but the pecking order was shaken up by Red Bull's strong showing after lunch.

Hamilton, a sensational rookie last year before losing out to Raikkonen by a single point in Brazil, was 0.914 seconds faster than Webber who could claim to be the best of the rest.

Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa and McLaren's new Finnish signing Heikki Kovalainen were third and fourth fastest respectively in both sessions.

Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso, who has returned to Renault after a bitter and tumultuous year alongside Hamilton at McLaren, was sixth in the morning but 13th in the second stint.

The top 10 highlighted the fierce fight behind Ferrari and McLaren, with seven teams jostling for position.

Poland's Robert Kubica was seventh fastest for BMW in the morning, ahead of Toyota's German rookie Timo Glock and compatriot Sebastian Vettel in a Toro Rosso.

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, a winner in Australia with Renault in 2005, showed Force India were likely to be more serious contenders than predecessors Spyker with ninth place in the afternoon after 12th place earlier on.

Toyota-powered Williams, whose pre-season testing times were impressive, made a troubled start with Germany's Nico Rosberg failing to register a timed lap in the morning before lapping eighth fastest in the second session.

The first session was halted for four minutes after Brazilian rookie Nelson Piquet Jr spun and stalled on the track with 22 minutes remaining. He was 19th in the afternoon.

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