Saturday, 23 March, 2019

Lewis Hamilton dominates practice as Mercedes lay down marker

Lewis Hamilton- Lewis Hamilton relaxed as Briton prepares for Australian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton is hoping to win a sixth world title this season Credit Getty Images
Jennie Wade | 16 March, 2019, 02:53

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel sounded an early alarm bell for Ferrari at Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, saying he was lacking confidence in his vehicle after a disappointing run in Friday practice.

Hamilton, using soft Pirellis, edged teammate Valtteri Bottas into second place by 0.048s with a lap completed just after the halfway mark of the 90-minute session to secure the position.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen improved from fourth-quickest to third in the second session, 0.08 behind, and his new teammate Pierre Gasly was fourth.

Vettel was 0.8secs slower than the Mercedes on both short, qualifying-style runs and longer race-style runs, which is completely contradictory to their form in testing, when all their rivals felt Ferrari were ahead.

After topping the timesheets in Friday's initial 90-minute practice, Hamilton backed up in the next session to go nearly a second faster. Friday saw the Free Practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix, the first race on the calendar.

No Australian has ever stood on the podium at their home grand Prix - Ricciardo came agonisingly close in 2014 and against previous year.

After impressing at recent testing at Barcelona, Ferrari's Binotto seemed to be foxing on Friday when he claimed he wasn't optimistic about their Melbourne chances.

"We wanted to go out", he said.

Lewis Hamilton- Lewis Hamilton relaxed as Briton prepares for Australian Grand Prix
Hamilton has appeared relaxed in Melbourne in the countdown to the Australian Grand Prix Credit GETTY IMAGES

"When we get to Q2 and they start to crank the engines up, that's when the story will start to unfold of where are Honda". Or have we all been hoodwinked by pre-season testing (again)?

Still, Hamilton sounded his intentions with the practice clean sweep.

"In the end we are racing for Ferrari and we will try to get Ferrari back to where we've been trying to get it back to for the past few years".

He looks on track to claim a record eighth overall pole and sixth straight at Albert Park on Saturday.

Sebastian Vettel, who has won in Melbourne for the past two years, could only manage fifth, almost a second adrift of arch-rival Hamilton, while Ferrari partner Charles Leclerc struggled to ninth, straddling the kerb and spinning as he pushed hard late in the day.

It was a tough day for Thai rookie Alexander Albon of Toro Rosso who crashed in first practice to prompt a red flag before spinning off track several times in the second.

The pair finished first and second in the drivers' championship last season, with Hamilton dominating the second half of the season and finishing with 11 victories from 21 GP events.

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