Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas dominate free practice at Australian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton set out his intent with a practice double ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion had said his team had “work to do” after Ferrari proved faster in pre-season testing in Barcelona. But no-one could match the Silver Arrows under blue skies at Melbourne’s Albert Park in second practice on Friday afternoon.

First Valtteri Bottas went around in one minute 22.648 seconds to lead the pack halfway through the 90-minute session with his first lap on soft tyres – half a second quicker than his pace on mediums.

Then Hamilton went purple in his first sector and laid down a marker ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session with a time of 1min 22.600secs.

The Mercedes team, who have won the constructors championship for the last five seasons, look in imperious form with the remaining pack at least 0.8 seconds behind the 34-year-old Briton.

Such was the dominance of Mercedes that Hamilton’s quickest time on the slower medium compound – one minute 23.148 seconds – would have been good enough for second place.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari, under new management this season, managed to get within hundredths of a second in first practice but were left with food for thought.

The German, a four-time winner of the world championship, recorded a fastest lap of one minute 23.473 – an improvement of 0.164 seconds compared to FP1 and only good enough for fifth place.

His teammate Leclerc fared even worse, spinning out at turn five late in the session and finishing ninth in the classification, 1.154 seconds behind Hamilton.

Red Bull took third and fourth, with Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly separated by 0.042 seconds, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Australian Daniel Ricciardo found the pace they missed in the first session to come in seventh and eighth respectively.

Kimi Raikkonen, preparing for his 17th Australian Grand Prix, was a tenth of a second behind Vettel in his Alfa Romeo for sixth, with Haas driver Romain Grosjean rounding out the top ten 1.214 seconds off the pace of Hamilton.

Just as was the case in first practice, two of the British newcomers finished in the bottom three in second practice.

Lando Norris was more than two seconds behind the lead with a best lap of one minute 24.733 seconds in his McLaren – 0.6 seconds behind teammate Carlos Sainz – while the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica were at the back of the pack with a deficit of 3.853 and 4.055 seconds respectively.

Hamilton had bagged early bragging rights over rival Vettel after clocking the fastest time in opening practice. Ferrari may have had the edge after pre-season testing, but it was the Mercedes driver who set the pace with a lap of one minute 23.599 seconds on soft tyres.

In response to the reigning champion, Leclerc gave an indication of what the Ferrari was capable of, recording a lap of one minute 23.673 seconds, before Vettel went four-hundredths of a second quicker for second place with one minute 23.637 seconds.

Verstappen recorded a time of one minute 23.792 seconds, good enough for fourth place and was followed by Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas on one minute 23.866 seconds.

The midfield was a packed affair – with 0.682 seconds separating Raikkonen in sixth and Sergio Perez in 16th.

Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso was 0.1 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Gasly, with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

There was late drama in the session, with rookie Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon losing his front wing after a spin at turn two, leading to a red flag, while Bottas braked on the grass and nearly put his Mercedes in the wall at the penultimate corner.

Renault struggled, an electrical problem consigning Hulkenberg to the pits for the majority of the session and Ricciardo struggling to find pace on his home track with a deficit of two seconds behind Hamilton.

Albon is one of three rookies who will be making their F1 debut in Australia, with Britons Norris and Russell occupying two of the bottom three spots.

Norris was clearly keen to get his eye in at Albert Park, completing 31 laps with a fastest time of one minute 25.966 seconds for 18th place, while Russell was five seconds off the pace in 20th with a time of one minute 28.740 seconds.

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Lando Norris excited to swap simulator for the real thing at Australian GP this weekend

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British rookie Lando Norris completed more than 600 laps of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on a simulator and is feeling “excited” ahead of his Formula One debut.

The 19-year-old, from Bristol, is one of three drivers who will line up for their first race in Australia, along with fellow Brit George Russell for Williams and London-born Alexander Albon for Toro Rosso.

The McLaren driver, team-mate of Carlos Sainz, revealed he had been working on the simulator in preparation.

Norris said: “You can only get to a certain point when you feel confident with the simulator and it always changes when you get to the track and you actually drive it for real for the first time.”

When asked if he won when he raced at home, Norris paused for a couple of seconds before admitting: “No.

George Russell beat Norris to the Formula 2 title last season.

George Russell beat Norris to the Formula 2 title last season.

“I was driving on F1 2018 and was just doing time trials against the other guys…I think I’ll stick to actual driving,” he said.

“I can’t drive as myself yet, maybe I’ll drive as someone else (on F1 2019) and see if I can beat myself.

“It is a cool thing, growing up and seeing all the big names and choosing Lewis (Hamilton) or Jenson (Button) and finally seeing your own name on it, it’s just a cool thing to think about and to see.”

Norris finished second behind Russell in last season’s Formula 2 Championship and said it was easier not being the centre of attention as the only newbie.

He said: “It’s going to be fun to hopefully race them but it does make it a bit easier overall, a bit less pressure in terms of being a rookie but not a lot.

“There’s still a lot of pressure whatever the circumstances when you race with McLaren and you’re in your first race weekend.”

Speaking about the upcoming Grand Prix, he said: “I can still win a race if our aim is to finish in the points or beat the other teams apart from the top three, things like that.

“We can still win in terms of achieving our goal of the weekend or the race. It’s more about goal setting and achieving those rather than the outright win.”

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Lewis Hamilton on Mercedes partnership with Valtteri Bottas: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

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Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said he shares a “great pairing” with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old launches the latest defence of his title on the streets of Albert Park in Melbourne and is paired up with the Finn for the third-straight season in 2019.

Bottas had a torrid 2018 campaign, failing to win a race and finishing fifth in the standings, but Mercedes opted to stick with the 29-year-old.

Speaking ahead of the weekend, Hamilton said: “On the driving front, continuity is what works.

“We have a great pairing and the contribution Valtteri and I put together works, it’s worked well for years and there’s no reason to change it.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The former Sports Personality of the Year added: “In terms of the team, we’ve got so many incredible people within the team and the energy is really…it’s inspiring to see so many people so pumped, pulling together.

“Just after the test, I went back and Toto (Wolff, team principal) rallied the troops and we all sat together and it was really impressive to see so many people so passionate about their jobs and so passionate about racing.

“They’re the soldiers, they’re the real true fighters for the team and they’re giving absolutely everything to make sure we progress.”

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari on top on the final day of 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona, and Hamilton said the results from Spain were clear.

“I don’t think it’s difficult to read it, it was quite clear,” Hamilton said. “However it’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing.

“Naturally we won’t fully know until we get out in the car tomorrow. Come qualifying you get a better picture.

“Usually over the first few races is where you really start to get an idea of where everyone stands. We said that we have work to do. We weren’t talking BS, we have work to do.”

Hamilton and Vettel will resume their rivalry, with the German looking for a third-straight victory Down Under on Sunday.

He admitted luck with the safety cars helped in 2018, saying: “We can’t do better than last year’s result, so it’s a tough weekend ahead of us.

Home favourite: Daniel Ricciardo.

Home favourite: Daniel Ricciardo.

“Always at the start you’re a bit nervous, you don’t exactly know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen but the spirit is good, the atmosphere is good, we’re happy to be here and start racing.”

The majority of the crowd will be backing Daniel Ricciardo in his new Renault over the weekend as he looks to end a 39-year drought since an Australian won a race on home turf.

He said: “I might need some help from some others this early in the season. They’re already kind of crazy, Australians, but if we could pull that off then lock your doors.”

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