Australian GP: The verdict from Friday practice
Reviewing a fascinating first day of the 2019 Formula 1 season and revealing what you may have missed from practice in Melbourne...
By Matt Morlidge, Pete Gill and James Galloway in Melbourne
Last Updated: 16/03/19 6:34am
Mercedes ahead, but are Ferrari playing games?
Lewis Hamilton was certain at winter testing: Ferrari had a sizeable advantage over Mercedes, perhaps even as much as half-a-second per lap. Even on Thursday in Australia, Hamilton insisted the pecking order was "clear" and that Mercedes wouldn't have as many upgrades as their rivals.
A day later, Hamilton topped both of Friday's opening practice sessions - and in P2 Mercedes were almost a second faster than their closest rivals.
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Race underway at 5.10am on Sunday, live on Sky Sports and Sky Sports Main Event. Full schedule here!
So, was Hamilton exaggerating, or have his team been sandbagging - F1speak for bluffing - with their pace?
It's probably a bit of both.
"They looked very strong - and a lot stronger than they claimed before the weekend," said Sebastian Vettel of Mercedes.
What's evident is that Mercedes once again have a car that will challenge for both titles this season and have made great strides since the first week of testing.
Ferrari play it safe so far
But are Ferrari playing games, too?
Vettel and the impressive Charles Leclerc were within a tenth of Hamilton in Practice One, despite only completing one representative flying lap each. The second session's final timesheet, meanwhile, painted a surprise, and unlikely, pecking order picture with Vettel eight tenths off Hamilton and Leclerc over a second off the leading pace in ninth.
And Sky F1's experts remained adamant that the Ferrari still looked the part, with Martin Brundle reporting from trackside that the SF90 looked much easier to drive than the Mercedes.
Friday's practice was fascinating and presented plenty of questions for F1's leading teams. And we'll find out the answers tomorrow. There can be no hiding place, or games, when it comes to qualifying.
Red Bull and Honda: A promising start
They were more secretive than any other team in terms of revealing their pace at testing, but we heard it all winter from Red Bull: Just wait until Friday in Melbourne - then you'll see where we are.
The verdict at the end of Red Bull-Honda's first day? It's a promising start, but still rather inconclusive in terms of whether they are true championship rival for Mercedes and Ferrari.
Red Bull were quick, very quick, during the first session, with Max Verstappen right on the Mercedes' pace. Sky F1's Paul di Resta claimed: "I'm getting excited about this Red Bull, just how quick it is early on."
In Practice Two, they were Mercedes' closest rivals, but now eight tenths off the pace. But was that just a sign that the Silver Arrows were on a different programme to Red Bull, as well as Ferrari?
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"Looking at Renault, at just one tenth behind Red Bull and ahead of Leclerc, that all smells to me of Red Bull and Ferrari sandbagging," said Sky F1's Karun Chandhok.
"I think they are waiting for tomorrow."
Expecting Red Bull to fight for pole may be a step too far, but seeing them so close to Mercedes and Ferrari is impressive in itself. They're the only team on the grid who have changed engine suppliers for 2019, and that switch has gone disastrously for other outfits in recent years.
The verdict of the Sky F1 pundits
"We have to stay calm. What it does tell us is that Mercedes have honed in on their car. But the Ferrari and Red Bull look great on track. So any headlines other than 'Mercedes are right in the hunt' will be misleading" - Martin Brundle.
"I expect to see a proper battle for pole position. When they all start unlocking their speed, l think it's going to be super close" - Karun Chandhok.
"Would l say Red Bull are right there with Mercedes and Ferrari? No. But they are right at the sharp end and Max looks on it" - Paul Di Resta.
"The Ferrari looks, from the on-board cameras, so easy and so comfortable" - Damon Hill.
A tough start for the rookies
The Albert Park circuit will speed up as the weekend progresses. Whether the rookies can keep pace with the evolution and progress accordingly will be an intriguing talking point, not least because, as a collective, they struggled on Friday.
George Russell was slowest of all in Practice One, although he did recover to edge ahead of Williams team-mate Robert Kubica in P2. But Lando Norris was 18th in both sessions and finished the day half a second behind Carlos Sainz. Alex Albon also finished half a second shy of his team-mate, Daniil Kvyat in the sister Toro Rosso, and followed his morning crash with a spin this afternoon. Antonio Giovinazzi's struggles in the Alfa Romeo were lower key, but his P2 half-a-second deficit to Kimi Raikkonen was entirely in keeping with the difficulties of his rookie peers.
They will all need to be fast learners.
A tough start for Williams but can they recover?
Australian GP Practice Two Timesheet
|1) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||1:22.600|
|2) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||1:22.648|
|3) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:23.400|
|4) Pierre Gasly||Red Bull||1:23.442|
|5) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:23.473|
|6) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:23.572|
|7) Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||1:23.574|
|8) Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||1:23.644|
|9) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1:23.754|
|10) Romain Grosjean||Haas||1:23.814|
|11) Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:23.933|
|12) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1:23.988|
|13) Lance Stroll||Racing Point||1:24.011|
|14) Carlos Sainz||McLaren||1:24.133|
|15) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:24.293|
|16) Sergio Perez||Racing Point||1:24.401|
|17) Alex Albon||Toro Rosso||1:24.675|
|18) Lando Norris||McLaren||1:24.733|
|19) George Russell||Williams||1:26.453|
|20) Robert Kubica||Williams||1:26.655|
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