Ferrari surprised by Mercedes pace in Australian GP Practice
Lewis Hamilton ahead in both of Friday's sessions; Mercedes had predicted Ferrari were ahead for the new season
By Pete Gill and James Galloway at Melbourne
Last Updated: 16/03/19 5:54am
Sebastian Vettel believes Mercedes may have been playing games in winter testing after the world champions dominated the opening day of F1 2019.
Despite predicting Ferrari, quickest during the pre-season running, would be half a second ahead, Lewis Hamilton was quickest in both of Friday's practice sessions for the Australian GP.
Asked by Sky F1 if he was surprised by Mercedes' fast form, Vettel dismissed the pre-season pessimism from the Silver Arrows camp as "bull****".
Vettel continued: "They looked very strong - and a lot stronger than they claimed before the weekend.
"They were in a league of their own."
But Vettel added he was confident Ferrari could add performance through the rest of the weekend.
And plenty in the paddock believe it was Ferrari who disguised their real pace on Friday - even if Mercedes had deliberately muted their speed in testing.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was understandably delighted with his return to action.
"I have a positive buzz from driving the car today - this is what l love doing," said Hamilton. "The car feels like it is in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is positive coming from a different track."
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After narrowly out-pacing Vettel in Practice One, Hamilton edged out Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the charts in Practice Two as the world champions started F1 2019 in emphatic style.
"The car felt better than it did at testing," said Bottas.
But the Finn added: "We haven't seen the full performance from any of the other teams. We have an idea of how much we can improve for qualifying, but we have no idea how much performance the other teams can still bring."
However, Red Bull boss Christian Horner also added a note of caution around Mercedes' single-lap pace, observing: "The car looks stiff and difficult to drive. Whether that is sustainable for an entire grand prix remains to be seen."
And who is the best of the rest?
While the fight at the front remains hard to conclusively call heading into the season's first Saturday, the battle for supremacy in the midfield is - as expected - looking similarly tight and unpredictable.
Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen headed a six-strong group of closely-matched teams in Practice Two, but the Finn was only 0.002s ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg.
Renault debutant Daniel Ricciardo, who was close behind in eighth, said: "We still have lots to learn and improve on, but we're getting there.
"For me, it's about developing the understanding of the car and we've made a good start on that today. Qualifying will be interesting and I'm looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, Raikkonen predicted that the battle for what is likely to be the fourth row was wide open.
"We have a solid day of work behind us, there were no big issues. We still have some set-up work to do to improve the car, but overall it felt quite good," said the Finn.
"I look forward to qualifying, behind the top teams anything is possible."
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Sky Sports F1's Australian GP schedule
Saturday, March 16
2.45am: Australian GP Practice Three build-up - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event.
3am: AUSTRALIAN GP PRACTICE THREE LIVE - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event.
4.10am: Paddock Walkabout
5am - Australian GP Qualifying build-up - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
6am - AUSTRALIAN GP QUALIFYING LIVE - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
7.30am - The F1 Show: Australia - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
Sunday, March 17
3.30am: Australian GP Pitlane Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
4.15am: Australian GP On The Grid Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
5.10am: THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX LIVE - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
7am: Australian GP Paddock Live - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
8am: Full race replay Australian GP - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One.
11.35am: Full race replay Australian GP - Simulcast on Sky Sports F1 and Sky One.
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