Lewis Hamilton sets the F1 pace in 2018 Australian Grand Prix practice

PUBLISHED: 10:16 23 March 2018 | UPDATED: 20:49 23 March 2018

Lewis Hamilton on track in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

Lewis Hamilton on track in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG

Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton slammed in the fastest practice time of the day at the 2018 Australian Grand Prix.

The 33-year-old Mercedes driver from Hertfordshire topped the timesheets in Melbourne as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport showed promising pace in Friday’s practice around the Albert Park circuit.

Four-time F1 world champ Hamilton finished the first session of the year in P1 with Silver Arrows colleague Valtteri Bottas in P2.

Hamilton clocked a lap time of 1m 24.026s in first practice with Bottas second quickest on a 1m 24.577s.

The motor racer from Stevenage ended the day in P1, with an second practice best of 1m 23.931s.

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

Hamilton said: “Coming to the first race, you really have no idea what it’s going to be like.

“You don’t know how you’re going to feel physically, you don’t know how the tyres are going to react to the circuit.

“But we started on the right foot today, we got through everything we needed.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Bottas finished practice in P3 with an afternoon session time of 1m 24.159s as the pack got closer to the reigning champion.

Valtteri Bottas in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]Valtteri Bottas in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

“It closed up a little bit in FP2 in terms of the gap between us all, but that’s exciting,” said Lewis.

“It’s more challenging for me to try and eke out a little more from the car.

“It’s been such a nice day, Albert Park is a really beautiful place to be and work when the weather is like this.”

Lewis ran the UltraSoft compound tyres in FP1, with Valtteri using the Soft (install) and UltraSoft.

The 2018 Australian Grand Prix circuit. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]The 2018 Australian Grand Prix circuit. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

In FP2, Lewis ran the SuperSoft and UltraSoft compound tyres, with Valtteri using the Soft and UltraSoft.

Hamilton said: “The tyres definitely didn’t seem to have the same issue that we had in Barcelona where they were blistering, so it felt a lot more normal.

“Obviously the car is quicker here than it was last year, so it feels better everywhere.

“Turns 11 and 12 are crazy, we’re not even braking into that corner, it’s insane.”

Lewis Hamilton on track in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.]Lewis Hamilton on track in practice for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.]

Hamilton, however, issued a note of caution ahead of qualifying, with rain predicted on Saturday.

He said: “It’s going to rain tomorrow and on Sunday as far as I’m aware.

“I’ve not driven in the rain yet on these tyres, so that’ll be interesting.”

Bottas felt first practice was “tricky”.

The scene of the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]The scene of the 2018 Australian Grand Prix. [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG]

The Finn said: “We had a bit of an issue with the suspension and also with the fuel system, so it was difficult to get a good comparison.

“I don’t think these issues are something to worry about, just something we discovered in the session.

“In second practice the car felt a lot better but there’s still more to unlock.

“I have to say thank you to the team because we are looking strong at this point, so I think it’s a good start.

“It’s good to be back on track and go racing.”

Assessing the competition, Bottas added: “It’s looking really close between us, Ferrari and Red Bull but that was more or less expected.

“Let’s see what tomorrow brings. We got some information for the long runs if it’s a dry race, we got some tyre data and we can see that a lot of things are behaving differently to testing in Barcelona because it’s much warmer and it’s a different tarmac.

“We’ve definitely learned a lot and we’ll keep on learning.”

Mercedes’ James Allison described today “as a good day” for the team.

He said: “We had a programme of finding out how the tyres behaved and we’ve been able to work through that without any drama.

“It’s brilliant as always after the winter testing to actually be racing again and to be finding out for real where our car stands.

“If we were in any doubt before, we’re in no doubt now that it’s going to be a tight weekend with both Ferrari and Red Bull.

“But we’re looking forward to the fight tomorrow and again on Sunday.”

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