Mark Webber helped Red Bull to the constructors' championship in 2010 but has never won his home GP [Reuters]

India's cricket triumphs were unlikely to be repeated on the Formula One track but fans may have expected more from Lotus driver Karun Chandhok at the first Melbourne Grand Prix practice.

Chandhok's first drive in the Team Lotus car lasted less than a minute on Friday before he spun on the track and crashed into a barrier.

"I'm obviously disappointed to have had such a short run for my first time in the Team Lotus car, but I put my hands up to it and totally accept it was a combination of a slippery track and less grip than I expected from the tyres," said Chandhok.

The 27-year-old, named as a reserve driver for the team only on Tuesday, was first out of the pits in the first practice session for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Driving Italian Jarno Trulli's car, Chandhok lost control on a track still damp after morning rain and hit a barrier, smashing the front wing off the T128 before walking away apparently unhurt.

Formula One strugglers Hispania (HRT) toiled through the night to get their cars ready for practice on Friday, but only Vitantonio Liuzzi emerged from the garage to ironic cheers two minutes before the end of the second session.

The Italian managed a single lap at Albert Park before heading back to the pits, while Indian team mate Narain Karthikeyan was left to cool his heels as HRT's hopes of qualifying for Sunday appeared increasingly slim.

There was more joy for the established names.

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton showered lavish praise on their McLaren team for conjuring a "massive" improvement in their cars to allow the pair to set the quickest times after the second practice session.

The 2009 world champion Button had hoped for a pleasant surprise following a winter testing plagued with reliability problems, and got his wish with a time of one minute 25.854 seconds in the second session, the fastest for the day.

Fellow Briton Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, was 0.132 seconds behind with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso third quickest for Ferrari and world champion Sebastian Vettel fourth for Red Bull.

Vettel's teammate Mark Webber, who is hoping to become the first Australian to win his home race on Sunday, was fifth quickest ahead of the Mercedes of seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher.

Good job

"McLaren have done a fantastic job – the boys have done a great job of bringing here an exhaust system that's reliable and has also got more pace than what we've experienced with this car before," Button, chasing a third consecutive win at Albert Park, told reporters under leaden skies at the paddock.

"I'm expecting a competitive weekend. I don't know where we will be but I'm looking forward to it.

"One of the most important things is that we have reliability, when you have that you can do solid work and improve the car."

Hamilton, the 2008 race winner, was equally effusive, saying their mechanics had delivered after being "pushed right to the limit" in the preceding two weeks.

"I feel definitely a lot more positive, I think if we were on the exhaust system that we had on the last test, we would be in quite a lot of trouble but (it was) a good level, felt quite a big step forward, so massive improvement, great job by the guys," he said.

Button said he was certain Red Bull had yet to show their hand, and declared that Vettel and Australian team mate Mark Webber had held off using the new moveable rear wing that gives drivers more straight-line speed when chasing a rival.

"For sure, when Sebastian did his quick lap he wasn't using the rear wing, because I was watching. So there's sort of six-tenths (of a second) right there," he said.

"But I suppose they're so quick they don't need to. I think tomorrow we'll see their true face which will be very impressive."

Source: Agencies