Hamilton fastest in 1st practice sessions for Australian GP


JOHN PYE, AP

MELBOURNE, AP

Lewis Hamilton has already delivered the faster speeds that Formula One rule changes were designed to achieve, going under the racing lap record during practice Friday for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion had the fastest time in morning practice and his afternoon session time of 1 minute, 23.620 seconds was quicker than the racing mark Michael Schumacher set in winning the 2004 title at the 5.303-kilometer (3.295-mile) Albert Park Circuit.

It was only one-tenth slower than the best ever lap of Albert Park, which Sebastien Vettel set to take pole position in 2011.

“I’m super happy to be back in the car — particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 percent perfect,” Hamilton said. “We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to.”

Ferrari driver Vettel split the Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who posted the fastest two times in the opening practice earlier Friday, with his 1:24.167 in the afternoon session.

Kimi Raikkonen’s afternoon run meant the Ferraris were second and fourth — a reflection of their positive pre-season testing in Barcelona — and pushed the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen back from third and fourth in the morning session to fifth and sixth in the afternoon.

Vettel was less than one-tenth of a second in front of Bottas, who replaced Nico Rosberg at Mercedes after the reigning world champion retired.

Hamilton, who won back-to-back world championships in 2014 and ’15 and narrowly lost to Rosberg last season, completed 22 laps in the morning session and 34 in the afternoon and used three tire compounds across the day.

The first practice was almost processional with the Mercedes cars followed by the two Red Bulls and the Ferraris.

Hamilton predicted ahead of the Australian GP that Ferrari would be the team to beat. He said Friday was indicative of how his rivals have improved and said qualifying on Saturday would be the first genuine test.

“We knew from FP1 that the Ferraris weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick,” Hamilton said. “We’ll see tomorrow how it really stands.”