Max Verstappen outpaced Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to clock the fastest time in opening practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday, as the defending world champion reinforced his early season dominance. The Dutchman powered around the Albert Park circuit with a best time of one minute 18.790 seconds among his 17 laps, largely on soft tyres. He demonstrated his superior speed again, but also had a massive spin at the exit of Turn 4 late on, ruining his tyres.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton was a surprise second, 0.433secs adrift, clocking his fastest lap just before the hour-long session was red flagged for a second time, sneaking past Red Bull’s third-placed Sergio Perez.
Red Bull are attempting to score a third consecutive 1-2 finish for the first time in the team’s history in Melbourne after their dominance in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso followed podium finishes at the first two races of the season by taking fourth in his Aston Martin.
Charles Leclerc, who won in Australia last year, came an encouraging fifth after Ferrari’s reliability and pace problems this year, ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz.
McLaren’s Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly in an Alpine, George Russell in the other Mercedes and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10.
Verstappen, who made his debut at the 2015 Australian GP as a 17-year-old, complained on the team radio early on about gear shift issues, saying they were “terrible, up and down shifts”.
It didn’t seem to affect him, although his spin was out of character.
On a cool day with cloud building, Sainz was first out and led the early pace setters, before Verstappen quickly took over to power clear and was never threatened.
Hamilton was heard on the team radio complaining about bouncing, a problem that marred Mercedes last season, although Albert Park is known as a bumpy circuit.
He overcame any issues he had with a scintillating late lap that will be hugely encouraging for his struggling team.
In an eventful practice, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda both skidded into the gravel, with the Japanese star hitting it backwards, narrowly avoiding the barriers.
There were also some close calls with the session red flagged for safety reasons due to GPS issues, with teams not able to monitor car position and closing speed properly.
It was halted again when Williams’ Logan Sargeant stopped on the side of the track with just minutes remaining.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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