Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first practice session ahead of this weekends season-opening Australian Grand Prix, edging out Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by three-hundredths of a second.
Following winter testing the Mercedes driver had warned that they were expecting to be on the back foot, but the Englishman put the Silver Arrow fastest ahead of his expected title rival Vettel and his teammate Charles Leclerc.
Valtteri Bottas finished the session fifth fastest behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Hamilton’s teammate had led the session however he slipped down to fifth after running off at the penultimate corner. Bottas finished the session two tenths off his teammate.
It was, however, an encouraging start to the year for the partnership between Red Bull and Honda, Max Verstappen putting the team fourth a tenth off the pace. As expected after testing the top three teams were separated by just under two tenths off a second.
Verstappen’s teammate Pierre Gasly was unable to deliver the same impact on his first outing, finishing a second off the pace. That left him behind the returning Alfa Romeo team, with Kimi Raikkonen being the highest of the midfield teams.
Red Bull’s sister team also made a good start, in his first outing since Austin in 2017 Daniil Kvyat put the Toro Rosso seventh. However, the same could not be said for his teammate Alex Albon, who crashed the car causing the first red flag of the year.
The British-Thai driver spun the car in Turn Two and rear-ended the wall before spinning around to break his front wing, but narrowly avoided the barrier.
Raikkonen on his return to the former Sauber team was a second off the pace but held a two-hundredths advantage over Kvyat. Kevin Magnussen was unable to live up to expectations putting his Haas ninth ahead of the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.
But, the German missed the first half of the session with a technical problem. Daniel Ricciardo’s start with the team saw him go an unrepresentative seventeenth.
McLaren and Racing Point had a muted start to the season with its best drivers 14th (Carlos Sainz for McLaren) and 15th (Lance Stroll for Racing Point) respectively.
As expected, Williams difficult start to the season continued, Robert Kubica nineteenth four tenths off the pace and a full two seconds slower than the next driver, McLaren’s Lando Norris. His teammate George Russell was a further eight tenths off.
It has been a difficult month for the team, the team’s car was delayed and reduced the running in testing, that was followed with chief technical officer Paddy Lowe taking a leave of absence last week. It was forced to make changes to its car to ensure its legality ahead of the weekend.