Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes started the 2018 Formula 1 season like they have started the four previous years: at the top. Lewis Hamilton dominated both practice sessions on Friday at the Australian GP and justified the favorites tag given to him and the Silver Arrows team for the season.
Hamilton And Mercedes On Top On Opening Day
The Briton was followed in the first free practice session by his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Max Verstappen finished close to car #44 in the second free practice session.
Free Practice 1 (FP1)
The first practice session started with Mercedes and the Red Bull Racing drivers competing for the best lap time. Hamilton topped Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen in the first part of the session and from that point on, the Briton dominated the practice.
Hamilton posted 1:24.026 as his best lap time. The reigning World Champion edged his teammate Valtteri Bottas by half a second. While Verstappen positioned his Red Bull third ahead of the Ferrari drivers – Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Ricciardo rounded the top six with a 1:25.063 lap, which was a second slower compared to the top spot. However, while Mercedes’ drivers used the ultrasoft tyre during the entire session, neither Ferrari or Red Bull tried the fastest tyre available for the weekend.
Haas F1 Impresses
Romain Grosjean had a great session. The Frenchman showed speed and progression with the Haas and finished seventh. On the other hand, Kevin Magnussen struggled with a sensor problem and was far behind in seventeenth. Grosjean, however, had some troubles close to the end of the first session. The French driver went wide at the exit of turn 12 and parts of his car were damaged.
— Formula 1 (@F1) 23 de marzo de 2018
McLaren: From trouble to hope
Fernando Alonso and McLaren represented an important part of the first FP1 of the year, both for the good and bad reasons. Alonso suffered an exhaust issue and was able to hit the track with only 22 minutes left on the 90 minutes-long P1.
Despite McLaren’s woes, Alonso managed to do a total of 16 laps and positioned his car in the top ten (eighth). The two-time champion edged his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished 10th, by more than five tenths of a second.
Renault put one of its drivers inside the top ten. The younger Spaniard on the grid, Carlos Sainz, showed good speed and was ninth in the first session of the new season. German Nico Hulkenberg could not find the speed and finished uncharacteristically behind Sainz in 13th place.
Pierre Gasly got off to a good start for the year with Toro Rosso-Honda and finished eleventh. The French driver was faster by more than 1.3 seconds over his teammate Brendon Hartley, albeit rounding the circuit doing nine more laps.
While teams like McLaren or Haas stepped their game up, others like Force India had issues finding speed and overall performance during FP1. Esteban Ocon was only fourteenth and Sergio Pérez sixteenth. A start to the weekend that Force India did not want, probably.
INITIAL CLASSIFICATION – END OF FP1
Hamilton’s title defence begins with the top time in the first session ?
— Formula 1 (@F1) 23 de marzo de 2018
Free Practice 2 (FP2)
The second free practice session wasn’t too different from the first one. Hamilton dominated again, however, the top 5 (HAM, VER, BOT, RAI, and VET) were covered by 0.520 seconds. This shows how competitive the session was and the parity, for the time being, between the main teams.
The champion’s best lap was a 1:23.931, whilst Verstappen ended up just 0.127 behind, both on the ultrasoft tyres.
McLaren and Haas F1 Impress Again
Romain Grosjean proved again that Haas’ performance in pre-season testing was not far away from reality. The Frenchman was sixth ahead of Ricciardo, who had his flying lap halted by a red flag. While Grosjean’s colleague, Magnussen, ended up ninth.
Alonso recovered from his morning problems and was eighth again but in a different fashion. The Spaniard was able to record a decent time, as he was just 1,2 seconds behind Hamilton’s mark.
The red flag made its first appearance in 2018, but luckily it wasn’t because of a terrible accident. A problem with the start-finish line with a stray wire forced the Race Direction to stop the action halfway through the session. However, the pause did not last long and cars were able to get back on the track relatively fast.
The final 30 minutes of FP2 was mainly for race simulations. Most cars ran with heavy fuel loads made long runs. Hamilton was consistent with his times. Verstappen presented a good case to be considered as a frontrunner for Sunday.
Bottas also showed good balance and was consistent in the long runs. Even though the Finn had some issues at the beginning of FP2, as he went off the track attempting a flying lap, Bottas enjoyed an overall good Friday.
Williams experienced many difficulties on Friday, including Lance Stroll stopping on the track because of an overheating issue on his FW41.
Free Practice 2 Results:
|2||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:24.058||+0.127s||34|
|7||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:24.721||+0.790s||28|
|12||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:25.413||+1.482s||30|
|15||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:25.888||+1.957s||33|
|16||28||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:25.925||+1.994s||41|
|17||10||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:25.945||+2.014s||39|
Formula 1 action will resume tomorrow with the third practice session and the first Qualifying event of the year, which promises to be a tight fight, especially if the conditions transitions from dry to wet.
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