Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has laid down the gauntlet by again topping practice ahead of Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
After dominating Friday’s initial 90 minute session, Hamilton backed up to top the timesheets with a lap of one minute 22.60 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fifth.
Duncraig star Daniel Ricciardo was a big mover on his Renault debut, jumping from 17th in the first session to be eighth fastest ahead of Saturday’s qualifying.
Hamilton clocked one minute 23.59 seconds in the opening session that featured a red flag, just three hundredths of a second ahead of four-time world champ Sebastian Vettel with his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc third fastest.
Hamilton will be aiming for a record eighth overall pole and sixth straight at Albert Park at Saturday’s qualifying.
The Briton is spearheading a Mercedes juggernaut which is aiming for a sixth straight constructors’ title, equalling Ferrari’s record run from 1999.
But Vettel will be backing himself to win a third straight Australian GP after setting the pace at recent testing in Spain.
In contrast, Ricciardo had plenty of work to do after showing in the firsts session why he had played down his 2019 podium chances following his shock departure from Red Bull.
“I am a bit disappointed. I was rather hoping with a bit of luck he would be in the top 10,” former world champion Alan Jones said of Ricciardo.
Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg had electrical problems but still managed the 10th fastest time in session 1.
Ricciardo turned heads on his Renault debut before even getting into his vehicle, donning a new-look helmet emblazoned with a curious motto “Stop Being Them” in an interesting blend of pink, green, blue and black.
“I’m not sure how much he paid for that, I hope it wasn’t much,” former Australian Formula 1 star Mark Webber said.
It wasn’t a good start for the rookies with Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon hitting the wall on turn two, prompting a red flag late in the 90 minute session.
Fellow F1 debutant George Russell’s Williams experienced electronic dramas, coming to a halt at the front of pit-lane.
The sudden passing of former Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting still clearly weighed heavily on teams.
Kevin Magnussen had the words “for our friend Charlie” written across the front of his Haas in a nod to the influential Whiting who died on Thursday morning in Melbourne on the eve of the new season.
The practice session marked the first time Williams recruit Robert Kubica had been sighted at a F1 track in eight years after a horror world rally championship crash.
He was second last in the practice field.