FP2: Hamilton heads Bottas as Mercedes go clear of the field
Lewis Hamilton’s advantage over second-placed Sebastian Vettel in Free Practice 1 at Melbourne was just 0.036s. But Mercedes moved 0.8s clear of their nearest competitor – Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – in FP2, with Hamilton narrowly ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas.
With FP2 a chance for the teams to up the pace after a rather steady first practice, Hamilton and Bottas finally appeared to show something of the raw pace in their W10 challenger after a muted performance in pre-season testing, with Hamilton’s 1m 22.600s in the session over two tenths faster than his pole time from 2018.
Whether their pace will be a worry for rivals Ferrari will become clear in Saturday’s qualifying session when everyone turns their engines up to full power for the first time – although with Vettel finishing the session in fifth and Charles Leclerc down in ninth, it seems likely there is much more to come from the Scuderia by the time we get to Q3.
Further down the order, the battle was tight in the midfield between Alfa Romeo and Renault, Kimi Raikkonen edging Nico Hulkenberg by just 0.002s to finish ‘best of the rest’ behind the big three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull for the second consecutive session. Haas’s Romain Grosjean was a further two tenths off that pace down in P10.
Meanwhile, with a stiff wind blowing around the Albert Park circuit, the session saw a number of wind-assisted mistakes, chiefly at Turn 1 and the penultimate Turn 15, with Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alexander Albon – who brought out a red flag after crashing at Turn 1 during the first practice session of the day – among those corners’ victims. Elsewhere, Charles Leclerc’s first competitive day in the cockpit for Ferrari ended with a heart-stopping spin coming out of Turn 4 – although the Monegasque was able to keep his SF90 out of the barriers.
So as the running on the opening day of the 2019 season draws to a close, it’s Mercedes who have headed both sessions so far this year. Can they maintain that advantage into Saturday, as Lewis Hamilton looks to take an incredible sixth straight pole position for the Australian Grand Prix? Are Ferrari keeping their powder dry? All these questions and more will be answered tomorrow…