Race Weekend Central

F1 News: Hamilton Dominates Australian GP Friday Practices; Verstappen Closing In

Lewis Hamilton proved in both Friday practices that he is the dominant force for this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, as the defending world champion clocked an afternoon 1:23:931 fastest lap, on ultra softs at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia.

“Coming to the first race, you really have no idea what it’s going to be like,” Hamilton recalled afterward. “You don’t how you’re going to feel physically, you don’t know how the tires are going to react to the circuit. But we started on the right foot today, we got through everything we needed.

“It closed up a little bit in FP2 in terms of the gap between us all, but that’s exciting. It’s more challenging for me to try and eke out a little more from the car. The tires definitely didn’t seem to have the same issue that we had in Barcelona where they were blistering, so it felt a lot more normal. Obviously, the car is quicker here than it was last year, so it feels better everywhere. Turns 11 and 12 are crazy, we’re not even braking into that corner, it’s insane.”

But not so far behind was Dutchman Max Verstappen in his Renault powered Red Bull challenger, just finishing 0.016 behind Hamilton in second using soft compound tires, in relation to Hamilton’s best super soft lap.

“It takes at least two or three Grand Prix to understand what is going on, it then also depends on everyone’s development rate throughout the year,” Verstappen said. “Race pace looks good, I think there is definitely some room for improvement and Mercedes look pretty strong, but I’m not concerned with how it looks at the moment. A little bit of rain over the rest of the weekend would help us out.”

The second-place finish by Verstappen was good enough to ruin Valtteri Bottas chances to get closer to his Mercedes teammate, as the Finn was third best, 0.101 seconds behind Verstappen. The Ferraris were next in fourth and fifth with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who was disappointing in failing to unlock the potential of the ultra-soft tires and could only finish 0.520 seconds behind Hamilton.

The surprise of the day, and not too many with some who saw them two weeks ago in Spain, was the American Haas F1 Team, who with Romain Grosjean, impressed by taking sixth best for the day. The Frenchman managed to finish even ahead of home hero Daniel Ricciardo, who will be penalized three grid positions on race day for speeding under a red flag, when a cable came out onto the track. Fernando Alonso was behind Grosjean as well, taking ninth and being in the pits most of the morning with the annoying exhaust issue that has bothered them since the winter pre-tests. To make things better for Haas, Kevin Magnussen rounded up the top ten for the team.

Hamilton opened the day in the first session with a time of 1: 24:026, but such teams as Renault, Williams and Force India did not improve much, and the latter two found themselves near the bottom of the grid. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson found that the car he expected to do well it was not finding its pace after all. Both Renault drivers, Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg finished outside the top ten in 11th and 13th, respectively, while Williams had Lance Stroll failing to return to the pits at the afternoon session, just when the checkered flag fell.

Considering the drivers still are not quite familiar on how their cars will work in the first few races, a possibility of rain on Saturday qualifying does not make the chance of a confirmed pole position possible, even with Hamilton and his new tires.

“It’s going to rain tomorrow and on Sunday as far as I’m aware.” He said. “I’ve not driven in the rain yet on these tires, so that’ll be interesting.”

About the author

Mark is a motorsports journalist specializing in the field for the last 16 years in Formula 1 with experience in covering team launches, feature stories and race weekends during the season. In addition, Mark covers the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Lemans. He also speaks French up to an intermediate level, with a basic understanding of German. Have worked for agencies as Racing Information Service News, Racing Nation, Fansided, the Munich Eye Newspaper in Munich, Germany, and Autoweek magazine. Mark is also a knowledgeable Formula 1 driver after graduating from both the F1 International and AGS racing academies.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

When Merc wasn’t running on the super softs during testing it seemed that they must have the field covered. Max may be able to keep it interesting as long as he can keep it on the island, but Ferrari is already disappointing.
Sunday will tell the tale however.

Share via