Hamilton tops timesheets in first free practice for Aussie GP

F1: 2019 Australian Grand Prix Preview

Lewis Hamilton suggested that Mercedes' eye-catching performance in Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix was not a major improvement on their running during pre-season testing in Barcelona - putting an eight-tenths advantage to their rivals Red Bull and Ferrari into some context.

Red Bull showed enormous pace with their new Honda units in the RB15, with Max Verstappen just 0.193s adrift of the ultimate pace.

Vettel was not far off the pace of the Red Bulls in the second session but he slid through the grass and complained of handling problems on the team radio.

Hamilton was fastest in the opening practice, holding off Ferrari pair Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and went even quicker in the afternoon.

Round one of the Australian Grand Prix and 2019 Formula One World Championship starts on Sunday.

The Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were sixth and seventh respectively.

Norris was clearly keen to get his eye in at Albert Park, completing 31 laps with a fastest time of one minute 25.966 seconds for 18th place, while Russell was five seconds off the pace in 20th with a time of one minute 28.740 seconds.

Bottas said the auto felt better than during testing.

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"We still have lots to learn and improve on, but we're getting there".

"Check the auto in turns one and four".

There was some speculation in the paddock that Ferrari may have been sandbagging, or deliberately holding back ahead of qualifying on Saturday. Hulkenberg spent more than an hour of his morning session with his vehicle on jacks in the garage with an electronics issue, while new teammate Ricciardo lost nearly 30 minutes of his afternoon to a technical problem before taking to the track, though both ended up in the mix at the head of the midfield as expected by the end of the day.

The other rookie, British-born Thai Alexander Albon, had a hard first day.

He said: "It's a long season, so I don't particularly feel it's the most important thing".

It was a tricky second session for the inexperienced drivers, with Alexander Albon again making errors after his crash in FP1. His first race with Renault after leaving the Red Bull team past year.

In between, FIA President Jean Todt and Formula 1 chairman Chase Carey attended a news conference with started with a minute of silence in memory of race director Charlie Whiting, who died in Melbourne on Thursday from a pulmonary embolism.

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