Britain’s Lewis Hamilton was said to be ”in a league of his own” after he put in a scintillating performance to dominate the Australian grand prix opening practice session.
The three-time world champion bossed the field and held a 0.547secs gap over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the second practice session. Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas came in third 0.009secs behind Vettel.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen came in fourth before Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton’s lap of 1:23.620 in the second session was within one tenth of the quickest lap ever recorded at Albert Park posted by his main rival this year, Vettel, in 2011 for Red Bull.
”Mercedes obviously have been in very strong form the last three years,” said the Vettel about Hamilton’s lap. ”I think it’s very clear who is the favorite.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said:
”Hamilton is in a league of his own at the moment. His one-lap pace was really good and he took the ultrasofts for 17 laps and was stable. I’m happy.”
Hamilton played down the talk of him and Mercedes being the favorites this year citing Ferrari’s superior times in pre-season testing. He, however, admitted to being excited with his performance.
”I’m super-happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 percent perfect.”
”We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tires performed really well today too. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”
In contrast to Hamilton’s performance, Bottas endured a challenging day in his first official sessions with Mercedes since replacing retired world champion, Nico Rosberg.
The Finn was unable to challenge his team-mate, raising questions over whether it is car or driver that has the advantage. He, however, promised to deliver better as he continues to adapt to his new car.
“Overall it was a good day today. We still have work to do with the car balance but we got all of our running completed without any issues,” said Bottas.
“From my side I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow. It’ll be a busy evening for us tonight looking through all the data to see where we can improve but it’s a reasonable start. In terms of our pace, it is only practice, so tomorrow we’ll find out exactly where we are.”
The Red Bull drivers who were expected to be the third quickest team this weekend were over a second behind Hamilton and half-a-second off Vettel’s Ferrari.
Daniel Ricciardo who is bidding to become the first Aussie Australian grand prix winner in 37 years said:
”We can still get more out of it. This morning was promising but we tried a few things this afternoon and they didn’t work as much as we’d like.”
”Mercedes sure are quick but it’s more Lewis than Valtteri. I think we can be up there. Pole may be a stretch but we’re in that next little group.”
This year’s title will not be decided on the Australian grand prix but will sure be decided by the big three of Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo who will be hoping to maintain their advantage over the chasing pack led by Max Verstappen.