Positive Hamilton Sets Melbourne Pace

Positive Hamilton Sets Melbourne Pace

Positive Hamilton Sets Melbourne Pace

The Briton edged teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.048 seconds but had a yawning 0.800-second gap to the Red Bull of third-fastest Max Verstappen, with Vettel further adrift with the fifth-quickest time.

Pre-season pacesetter Ferrari had a subdued session, lapping well off the pace early in the session on medium-compound Pirellis, with Sebastian Vettel complaining over the radio that something felt wrong in Turns 1 and 4.

The Italian team looked to have a comfortable advantage during testing in Spain, with some estimates suggesting Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc had a vehicle that was half a second per lap quicker than their nearest rivals.

Perhaps F1 would be wise, though, not to pin its hopes for 2019 exclusively on a straight duel between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, his erstwhile adversary at Ferrari.

The 39-year-old Kimi Raikonen was sixth in his first start since leaving Ferrari for Alfa Romeo Racing, and the Renault pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were next.

Ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton said it was "not hard to read" Mercedes' testing form, and insisted the team wasn't playing mind games with its pre-season estimations.

Renault will be aiming to duplicate their Melbourne form from 12 months ago, when Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz gave the team a double points finish with seventh and tenth respectively.

While well off Mercedes' pace, Verstappen posted his fastest lap at the start of a long run, meaning he likely had more fuel on board and would be quicker in qualifying conditions.

Bottas said the auto felt better than during testing.

There was some speculation in the paddock that Ferrari may have been sandbagging, or deliberately holding back ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

"We didn't really get into the groove and rhythm", he admitted, "and that's quite important around here".

"It was a tricky day for us - it was probably a tricky day for everyone. We had some consistent running in Free Practice 2 and I was certainly growing more comfortable on each run", he explained.

"We didn't really get into the groove and the rhythm and I hope tomorrow is a better day".

Adding to the confusion, on the race-distance runs late in second practice, Vettel on the fastest "soft" tyre was only very slightly faster than team-mate Charles Leclerc on the slowest "hard". He reiterated that Mercedes had plenty of "work to do" in Thursday's media conference.

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