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Williams' Rosberg dominates practice

WILLIAMS' Nico Rosberg dominated Formula One's first day of practice at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne yesterday while McLaren's world champion Lewis Hamilton languished near the bottom of the timesheets.

Rosberg lapped quickest in both sessions at a sunny Albert Park while Hamilton was 18th of the 20 drivers in the second.

Only Renault's Brazilian Nelson Piquet and 20-year-old Swiss rookie Sebastien Buemi in a Toro Rosso were slower than the Briton.

On the first appearance of the new-look, slick-tired Formula One cars at a grand prix weekend, last year's pecking order appeared to have been turned on its head by the radical new regulations.

The three teams using controversial rear diffusers - Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams - showed why their rivals are so concerned after they filled six of the top seven places in a second session held late in the afternoon.

Season opener

The trio had been subjected to protests on Thursday by other teams, who argued their cars were illegal, before stewards cleared them for Sunday's season opener pending appeal.

Rosberg, who finished third in Melbourne last year but otherwise struggled for points, led Japanese teammate Kazuki Nakajima in a Williams one-two in the first practice. His best time of one minute, 26.053 in the second session was 0.104 quicker than Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in the Brawn and well inside the 2008 pole of 1:26.714 set by Hamilton.

"It's been a positive day, we've gone better than I expected," Rosberg, son of Finland's 1982 champion Keke, said. "My hopes are higher than they were before that we can definitely score consistent points.

"Definitely we've done a nice step forwards ... I think we are going to be able to enjoy ourselves for the first few races," he added.

Hamilton, who has already warned it would be tough to score a point this weekend in an uncompetitive car struggling for pace, showed that McLaren's problems were very real.

"Obviously we're not as a quick as we'd love to be but we're working quite hard and we got through quite a good program," said the 24-year-old. "We don't really know what everyone else is doing on the track but we're happy with what we've done today."

Force India, which has the same Mercedes engine as McLaren, had Adrian Sutil a strong ninth in both sessions.

Jenson Button, scorer of just three points in his last 18 races, was sixth and fifth respectively for Brawn. Rivals still saw his team, which emerged from the remains of departed Honda, as the ones to watch.

"I think probably the Brawn was running quite a lot of fuel today so we haven't seen everybody's true hand and probably won't do until tomorrow afternoon," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber ended the day with the fourth fastest time.

Champion Ferrari had a largely anonymous day. Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, was 11th in the final session while Brazilian teammate and 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa was 10th.

None of the three Formula One champions in action finished in the top 10.

Sunday's race is also starting later than usual to cater for European television audiences, with a twilight finish.


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