A new season but the same old result as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the first two practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix. But is all as it seems?
The first practice session of the season saw defending world champion Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time. It was close at the top though with only 0.196 seconds separating the top four. Lewis Hamilton was just 0.038 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel with his new team-mate Charles Leclerc 0.036 seconds adrift. Fourth fastest was the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas finished fifth and nearly hit a wall at one stage, with Alfa Romeo debutant Kimi Raikkonen in sixth. All of the top six set their times on soft tyres but seventh-quickest Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso was on medium. Pierre Gasly had a troubled testing session recently but was eighth fastest in the other Red Bull over a second behind Verstappen. The top ten was completed by the Haas of Kevin Magnusson and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. It wasn’t the easiest of sessions for Hulkenburg who missed the first half of it due to a technical problem.
Alexander Albon crashed his Toro Rosso at Turn Two. That knocked off the front wing, but he was still able to get his car back to the pits He set the 13th quickest time in the session. Daniel Ricciardo was back in 17th but was baulked by Romain Grosjean during his quickest lap, so he’s capable of a lot better in his Renault.
Williams were at the back of the field but the gap of two seconds to the next car isn’t as bad as it looks. Their time was set on the medium tyre but it’s still a poor start to what looks like being another tough season for them.
The second practice session ended in a Mercedes one-two with Lewis Hamilton again quickest. He was 0.048 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Third and fourth spots were filled by the two Red Bulls with Verstappen ahead of Gasley. Hamilton had a time 0.8 seconds faster than Verstappen with Gasley a further 0.042 seconds adrift. Verstappen’s best time was set at the start of a long run with a lot more fuel on board than when his rivals set their times.
Sebastian Vettel was fifth and 0.873 seconds off the pace. The feeling is though that the Italian team are hiding their real pace and qualifying may well be a different story. The other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was back in ninth.
Sixth fastest was again filled by Kimi Raikkonen with the two Renaults in seventh and eighth. Nico Hulkenberg was 0.090 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. With Leclerc in ninth, tenth went to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Ricciardo’s troubled day continued as he needed to adjust his seat because it wasn’t exactly all that comfortable.
Sebastian Vettel wasn’t happy after the second practice session and said Friday had been “a tricky day.” He feels Ferrari “are not there yet where we would like to be.” That didn’t just refer to pace but the “car feel and handling.” When asked about the pace of Mercedes, he claimed they were “in a league of their own.”
I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice session and qualifying. Then we’ll find out just how fast the Ferrari’s can be on this track. Till then, enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport