The 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season looks set to be an arm-wrestle between Mercedes and Ferrari, if the lap times in the first practice session of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix are anything to go by.

Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton headed the field in his Mercedes, however in hot pursuit came the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc who were less than one-tenth of a second slower than the Briton’s rapid fastest lap time of 1:23.599.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was barely a quarter of a second slower in the sister W10, although the Finn had an untidy session that saw him outbrake himself at Turn 15 before making a spin-turn in the run-off to rejoin the circuit.

Getting into the mix among the ‘big two’ teams was Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who got the team’s new partnership with Honda off to a positive start by lapping fourth-fastest, just 0.193 seconds slower than Hamilton’s ultimate pace.

Also showing promising pace was Kimi Räikkönen, who took the new Alfa Romeo C38 to lead the ‘best of the rest’ charge of the midfield runners. The 2007 World Champion was, however, almost a second adrift of his compatriot Bottas.

Series returnee Daniil Kvyat took the heavily-updated Red Bull-derived Toro Rosso STR14 to claim seventh on the timesheets ahead of the ‘A’ team’s Pierre Gasly. Kevin Magnussen was just two-thousandths of a second slower than Gasly in the Haas Ferrari.

Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten in his Renault, however the German spent almost an hour confined to the pit lane after an electrical issue was detected on his RS19 during its installation lap.

Less than seven-tenths of a second covered sixth (Räikkönen) through to sixteenth (Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez) on the session’s final time sheets. Crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo only managed a handful of laps at anywhere near full speed, with the Renault driver finishing an unrepresentative twentieth-fastest.

The field’s three rookie drivers – Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Williams’ George Russell – encountered typical challenges on their first time lapping the Albert Park Circuit.

Albon finished quickest of the trio in thirteenth, however the Anglo-Thai pilot earned the ignominious honour of being the first driver to crash this season when he lost the back end of his car through Turn 1 and slid backwards into the Turn 2 wall. The angle and speed of impact spun his car around, which then nosed into the wall and plucked off its front wing.

The session was briefly red-flagged, but Albon was able to drive his car, minus its front wing, back to the pits so it could be inspected and hopefully repaired in time for Friday afternoon’s second practice session.

George Russell propped up the bottom of the timesheets in his first Grand Prix outing for Williams, with his fastest lap over five seconds off the pace and only just inside a theoretical 107% qualifying cut-off time.

While teammate Robert Kubica, making his return to Grand Prix racing, was almost a second quicker than the British youngster, the pair’s gap to the midfield alone confirmed suspicions that the FW42 will be running a race at the back of the field on Sunday.

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:23.599 + 0.003 26
2. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF90 1:23.637 + 0.038 18
3. Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari SF90 1:23.673 + 0.074 18
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RB15 1:23.792 + 0.193 22
5. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:23.866 + 0.267 30
6. Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:24.816 + 1.217 18
7. Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 1:24.832 + 1.233 30
8. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Racing RB15 1:24.932 + 1.333 23
9. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:25.934 + 1.335 24
10. Nico Hülkenberg Renault F1 Team RS19 1:25.015 + 1.416 11
11. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:25.166 + 1.567 23
12. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:25.224 + 1.625 18
13. Alexander Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 1:25.230 + 1.631 21
14. Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:25.285 + 1.686 19
15. Lance Stroll Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:25.288 + 1.689 26
16. Sergio Pérez Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:25.498 + 1.899 21
17. Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team RS19 1:25.634 + 2.035 16
18. Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:25.966 + 2.367 31
19. Robert Kubica ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:27.914 + 4.315 25
20. George Russell ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:28.740 + 5.141 25

Images 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.