Lewis Hamilton started his quest for a fifth Formula 1 World Championship title in earnest fashion by leading a Mercedes 1-2 in the opening practice session for the Australian Grand Prix.

The Briton led teammate Valtteri Bottas to the top of the timesheets, although ominously outpaced the rest of the field by over half a second. Red Bull Racing claimed the early ‘best of the rest’ mantle, with Max Verstappen placing third-fastest a further two-tenths of a second behind.

When the pit lane opened under sunny conditions, Sebastian Vettel was first out on track in his Ferrari and led a sequence of installation laps for the entire field.

It took until 20 minutes in to the session before the first timed lap, with Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin posting a steady 1:32.057 which was quickly usurped as Kimi Räikkönen, Bottas and then Daniel Ricciardo moved to the top of the timesheets over the following five minutes.

Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen traded fastest laps, with Hamilton playing a spoiling role as they started to approach and then dip below the 1m25s barrier. The times continued to improve, with Hamilton posting a 1:24.531.

Bottas bolted on a set of Ultra Soft tyres and closed to within 0.05 seconds of his teammate, but when Hamiton made a similar switch he pulled clear by over half a second. Bottas was unable to respond on his subsequent runs and settled for second-fastest.

Verstappen moved up to third-fastest with his fastest time coming on the slower Super Soft rubber, although still three-quarters of a second down on Hamilton’s benchmark effort.

He and teammate Ricciardo sandwiched the two Ferraris, with Räikkönen claiming fifth-fastest on Soft compound tyres, one-tenth of a second clear of teammate Vettel who made a mistake on his first flying run on Soft tyres. The German improved at his second attempt.

Behind the top three teams, Romain Grosjean underlined suggestions that the Haas VF-18 has some serious pace by going seventh-quickest, albeit with a lap that was 1.7 seconds down on Hamilton.

Just one second covered a large midfield bunch between Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Pérez who was 16th-fastest.

The two McLarens made it into the top-ten, despite more reliability issues affecting both cars which kept them largely confined to the garage for the first hour of the session. Fernando Alonso suffered an exhaust issue but eventually re-emerged from the pits and improved to eighth-fastest. The Spaniard could have gone even quicker were it not for an untidy final sector. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne reported “driveability” issues but ultimately wound up tenth-fastest.

Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr was sandwiched between the two McLarens and lapped seven-tenths of a second faster than teammate Nico Hülkenberg who finished the session 13th-fastest.

In other intra-team battles, Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin outpaced Lance Stroll by just one-tenth of a second, while at Toro Rosso Pierre Gasly finished 11th-fastest and was comfortably clear of teammate Brendon Hartley.

Neither Force India VJM11 set the timesheets alight, with Esteban Ocon lapping quicker than Sergio Pérez although the pair was over 2.5 seconds off the pace.

The two Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc propped up the timesheets in their Alfa Romeo-branded Saubers, a further second adrift of the rest of the field.

Friday’s second practice session gets underway at 16:00 local time (GMT +11).

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:24.026 27
2. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:24.577 + 0.551 29
3. Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:24.771 + 0.745 26
4. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:24.875  + 0.849 23
5. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:24.995  + 0.969 22
6. Daniel Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:25.063 + 1.037 25
7. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:25.730 + 1.704 24
8. Fernando Alonso McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:25.896 + 1.870 16
9. Carlos Sainz Jr Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:25.922 + 1.896 23
10 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:26.482 + 2.456 15
11. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:26.494 + 2.468 25
12. Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:26.536 + 2.510 25
13. Nico Hülkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:26.583 + 2.557 25
14. Esteban Ocon Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:26.605 + 2.579 30
15. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:26.636 + 2.610 30
16. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:26.767 + 2.741 26
17. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:27.035 + 3.009 13
18. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:27.745 + 3.719 16
19. Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:27.964 + 3.938 28
20. Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:28.853 + 4.827 28

Image via Ignite Image / MotorsportM8

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.