Australian GP, Practice One: Lewis Hamilton sets searing early pace
World champion in ominous form in Mercedes one-two, more than 0.7s ahead of Red Bull and Ferrari; McLaren hit more trouble but recover to top 10; Fine weather set to change on Saturday
By James Galloway in Melbourne
Last Updated: 26/03/18 8:18am
Lewis Hamilton appeared to confirm Mercedes' status as F1 2018 favourites by lapping half a second quicker than anyone in opening practice at the Australian GP.
Hamilton and the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo traded fastest times on the ultrasoft tyres early on in Practice One at a sun-kissed Albert Park, but the world champion then pulled a long way clear on his next stint with a best lap of 1:24.026.
Valtteri Bottas then got ahead of the Red Bulls too in the other Mercedes, but was 0.551s adrift of his impressive team-mate. Verstappen finished third, 0.7s off Hamilton's ultimate pace.
Ferrari, who some suggested struggled in pre-season, chose not to run on the ultrasoft tyres and Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel wound up just under a second back in fourth and fifth respectively. They set their best times, the quickest of which from Raikkonen was 0.849s slower than Hamilton, on a step harder tyres compared to Mercedes.
"The first session was as expected," said a content-sounding Toto Wolff of Mercedes. "We didn't see the Ferraris on the tyres we've been running, so we need a little more time to understand, but it's a decent start."
Ricciardo, again Australia's sole representative on the grid, was sixth.
"Reasonably positive," said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. "There is nothing too far from what we expected from testing. The drivers seem reasonably confident and the car is quick here."
Unlike Mercedes, who trialled their Melbourne-spec package at the second Barcelona test, Ferrari and Red Bull ran extensive new parts on Friday morning.
"The big story for me are that Mercedes do not have any significant performance upgrades here on the ground in Australia," reported Sky F1's Ted Kravitz before the session. "We have seen a few improvements to the Ferrari, a lot of improvements to the Red Bull, but the Mercedes is the same car as they finished the last day of testing in Barcelona."
McLaren also tested a number of additions to their MCL33 and, in keeping with the team's winter form, they endured an opening session of mixed fortunes.
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An exhaust problem kept Fernando Alonso in the garage for much of the opening hour, but he returned to track and set a solid eighth-fastest time - although was 1.8s adrift of Hamilton's pace. Stoffel Vandoorne also encountered delays but ended up 10th quickest.
Haas, the undoubted surprise package of testing, were a promising seventh with Romain Grosjean, although team-mate Kevin Magnussen found the grass and finished down in 17th.
While Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari appear untouchable for at least the season's opening rounds, the group behind appears set to prove as tightly-packed as predicted.
One second covered six teams from seventh to 16th place, with Williams and Force India initially towards the bottom of that group after challenging winters.
Australian GP Practice One Timesheet
|1. Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||1:24.026|
|2. Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||1:24.577|
|3. Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:24.771|
|4. Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||1:24.875|
|5. Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:24.995|
|6. Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:25.063|
|7. Romain Grosjean||Haas||1:25.730|
|8. Fernando Alonso||McLaren||1:25.896|
|9. Carlos Sainz||Renault||1:25.922|
|10. Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren||1:26.482|
|11. Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||1:26.494|
|12. Sergey Sirotkin||Williams||1:26.536|
|13. Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||1:26.583|
|14. Esteban Ocon||Force India||1:26.605|
|15. Lance Stroll||Williams||1:26.636|
|16. Sergio Perez||Force India||1:26.767|
|17. Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1:27.035|
|18. Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||1:27.745|
|19. Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||1:27.964|
|20. Charles Leclerc||Sauber||1:28.853|
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