Current world champion Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the opening two practice sessions for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.
The Briton finished ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in P1, before finishing just over 0.1s ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the afternoon. Hamilton was the only driver to set a lap under 1:24, topping the timesheets with a 1:23.931 in P2.
While Hamilton looked dominant in the morning, there was little to separate the top drivers in P2, with under a second covering the fastest seven cars, which included Haas’s Romain Grosjean in sixth. The American team have been tipped to do well in the midfield battle after strong performances in pre-season testing, but Grosjean’s pace put him ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, while teammate Kevin Magnussen was ninth in P2.
The top three teams – Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari – are expected to be well matched this year. The longer runs in P2 suggest Mercedes and Red Bull have similar race pace, while Ferrari were a fraction slower. In both sessions, it was Kimi Raikkonen who set the fastest time for the Italian team ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with the duo finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
There was bad news for Ricciardo after P2. He was one track when the session was red flagged to enable repairs to the timing equipment on the start/finish line. However, the stewards found the Australian didn’t slow under the red flag, resulting in a three-place grid penalty and two penalty points for the Honey Badger at his home race.
McLaren’s pre-season gremlins returned in the opening session of the day with Fernando Alonso’s car encountering an exhaust problem. The team needed most of the first hour of P1 to get the car ready for its first timed lap, but the MCL33 proved to have plenty of pace once it did get on the track, allowing the two-time drivers’ champion to post the eighth fastest time in both sessions, while teammate Stoffel Vandoorne was 10th.
Two drivers are taking part in a full race weekend for the first time – Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin and Charles Leclerc at Alfa Romeo Sauber. Sirotkin will be happy to have finished ahead of teammate Lance Stroll in the opening session, although he was 0.4s behind the Canadian in P2. Leclerc was slowest in both practices, but finished the day just 0.01s adrift of more experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson.
In the midfield battle, there was little to separate Renault and Force India. Carlos Sainz was the fastest driver from both teams in both practices, but less than 0.5s split Sainz, Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon in the afternoon. Their pace leaves them just behind McLaren and Haas, but ahead Toro Rosso and Alfa Romeo Sauber.
Toro Rosso had a mixed P1, with Pierre Gasly just 0.12s outside a spot in the top 10 while teammate Brendon Hartley finished the session 18th. The cars were closer in the afternoon with Hartley getting the better of the former GP2 champion by 0.2s as the duo finished 16th and 17th.