Hamilton tops timesheets in first free practice

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel testing the new car in Montmelo in the outskirts of Barcelona in February

Mercedes had been tipped to be up to 0.3seconds down on Ferrari after testing however Hamilton was consistently quick on the first day of the Australian Grand Prix weekend, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc finishing FP2 in fifth and ninth places respectively.

After pipping Vettel with a lap of 1 minute, 23.599 seconds in the first practice, Hamilton shaved nearly a second off that in FP2, his quickest lap clocked at 1:22.600.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen improved from fourth-quickest to third in the second session, 0.08 behind, and his new teammate Pierre Gasly was fourth.

Given the fact the top 18 cars were covered by 2.3 seconds in FP1, that gap actually came down to 2.1s in the second session, suggesting Red Bull and Ferrari have plenty of time still to find over one lap having not made the same step as the rest of the field.

While Mercedes' Toto Wolff and Ferrari's Mattia Binotto on Friday insisted qualifying would be the true gauge, few would bet against Hamilton.

Ferrari, who appeared to have the quickest auto in pre-season testing, were fourth with Sebastian Vettel.

Alfa Romeo newcomer Kimi Raikkonen was sixth fastest, a tenth behind Vettel, and just ahead of the two Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.

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Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton claimed the Formula One titles in 2018 yet appeared pessimistic ahead of the new campaign, with Vettel's Ferrari impressing in testing in Barcelona.

Lewis Hamilton records the fastest lap time in the practice session of the Melbourne Grand Prix on Friday (Mar 15).

Bottas said the auto felt better than during testing.

The Formula 1 season has begun again, with faster cars, new rules, and new line-ups. The forecast is for warmer conditions for Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.

"It was a tricky day for us - it was probably a tricky day for everyone".

"If you look how close it actually is, even the mid pack is a lot closer, so I would say even more than ever before there's even less margin for error. So, in the end we're racing for Ferrari and that means we try to get Ferrari back to where we've been trying to get it back to for the last couple of years". "We didn't really get into the groove and the rhythm".

It was a tough day for Thai rookie Alexander Albon of Toro Rosso who crashed in first practice to prompt a red flag before spinning off track several times in the second. "It's not too dissimilar to how it was previous year driving round here".

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