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.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX 2019 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|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)