Lewis Hamilton remained atop the practice timesheets as Friday’s Formula 1 action came to a close at Albert Park.
Quickest in today’s opening practice session, the Englishman was the only driver to get his Mercedes F1 W09 under the 1m24s barrier in the second practice session, narrowly edging out Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by less than two-tenths of a second.
The time sheets will show that the session proved more closely fought than many insiders had expected, with the fastest seven runners covered by less than 0.8 seconds on the stopwatch. Intruding on the traditional top-three battle – between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing – was Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who repeated his FP1 efforts with another strong showing in the Ferrari-powered VF-17.
With the late afternoon conditions more closely resembling what the field can expect on Sunday’s race, the field was out in earnest to complete both low-fuel qualifying-style runs and higher-fuel programmes.
Verstappen laid down the first proper benchmark with a 1:25.063 on the Soft Pirelli tyre, edging out Valtteri Bottas’ similarly-shod Mercedes by three-tenths of a second.
Hamilton then came out and moved to the top of the timing screens with a 1:24.569, improving on his second run by almost 0.2 seconds.
Verstappen closed to within two-hundredths of a second on his next Soft tyre run, only to be beaten by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen – who required a set of Ultra Soft tyres – to move to the top with a 1:24.214 effort.
Hamilton returned to the track with a set of Ultra Softs and went quickest of all with a 1:23.931. Teammate Bottas looked set to threaten the Englishman’s time just moment later, but had a snap oversteer moment exiting Turn 12 and fell 0.228 seconds short of the four-time World Champion.
It briefly gave Mercedes a 1-2 run, only for Verstappen to split the pair with an Ultra Soft run that saw him wind up just 0.127 seconds shy of Hamilton’s impressive effort.
All of this shuffled Räikkönen – who is under investigation for a near-miss incident with Valtteri Bottas (click here for exclusive photos) – down to fourth-fastest, a couple of tenths quicker than fifth-placed teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo wound up seventh-fastest behind the impressive Grosjean, with his prospects of a rapid qualifying-style lap ruined when the session was briefly red-flagged after a timing loop wire was pulled loose from the tarmac on the start/finish straight.
The mini-break in proceedings prompted the field to switch focus to longer, higher-fuel runs, meaning there was little improvement in lap times through the field.
The Haas-Ferraris and McLaren-Renaults led the midfield charge, with the latter’s Fernando Alonso and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne sandwiching the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
The balance of the midfield was a closely-fought affair, featuring Renault, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso. The two Saubers again brought up the rear, almost a second slower than the remaining midfield, with Marcus Ericsson pipping teammate Charles Leclerc by 0.001 seconds.
There was drama at the very end of the session when Lance Stroll was instructed to stop his Williams on track during his slowdown lap with concerns over a spike in his Mercedes’ engine temperature.
The final practice session of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place at 14:00 on Saturday (GMT +11).
|FORMULA 1 2018 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2 TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:23.931||35|
|2.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:24.058||+ 0.127||34|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:24.159||+ 0.228||34|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:24.214||+ 0.283||39|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:24.451||+ 0.520||38|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:24.648||+ 0.717||34|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:24.721||+ 0.790||28|
|8.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:25.200||+ 1.269||28|
|9.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:25.246||+ 1.315||30|
|10.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:25.285||+ 1.354||34|
|11.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:25.390||+ 1.459||35|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:25.413||+ 1.482||30|
|13.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:25.463||+ 1.532||35|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:25.543||+ 1.612||32|
|15.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:25.888||+ 1.957||33|
|16.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:25.925||+ 1.994||41|
|17.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:25.945||+ 2.014||39|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:25.974||+ 2.043||37|
|19.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:26.814||+ 2.883||31|
|20.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:26.815||+ 2.884||35|
Image via Ignite Image / MotorsportM8