FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton was second quickest in the opening practice session for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this morning (Friday).

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Car 4: Lewis Hamilton

Age: 27 (January 7, 1985)

GPs: 90

Wins: 17

Poles: 19

Fastest laps: 11

The 27-year-old F1 star from Hertfordshire clocked a best lap of 1m 27.805s around the Albert Park circuit, as the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team set the pace ahead of the season curtain-raiser on Sunday.

Hamilton, who won the world title in 2008, was behind McLaren colleague Jenson Button on the P1 timesheets.

Button went fastest in the first free practice session with a lap time of 1m 27.560s.

With changeable weather affecting second practice, Button and Hamilton kept their powder dry and only posted the 15th and 16th best times respectively in the afternoon. Michael Schumacher topped the timesheets in P2 for Mercedes.

2012 Australian Grand Prix facts

* Race distance: 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)

* Start time: 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)

* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles

* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)

* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)

However, Herts-born Hamilton was delighted at his first real day driving the new McLaren MP4-27 challenger.

He said: “Our car feels there or thereabouts but, as in testing, we don’t know the fuel-loads the others were running: it still looks close between ourselves, Red Bull and Mercedes.

“It’s going to be interesting tomorrow [Saturday] – we’ll get a better understanding of who’s going to be quick.

“I’m massively excited to see how the rest of the weekend goes.”

Explaining today’s programme, Hamilton said: “We spent the morning making sure we could switch the tyres on.

“Then, in the afternoon, we didn’t do any running in the wet because the forecast says it’s likely to be dry for the rest of the weekend.

“In those circumstances, it’s important to remain calm, look after the car and make sure we focus on the rest of the weekend.”

Button was also pleased with today’s progress. He said: “Even though it doesn’t mean too much, it’s always nice to start the season with the quickest time of the day.

“Our car feels very different compared with the last test – the circuit is different and the average corner speed is a lot lower, but the car is still working well for me.”

He added: “There are still a few areas where I think we can improve, and we didn’t get as many laps in today as we’d have liked, but it’s been a positive day.”

Qualifying for the 2012 Australian Grand Prix starts at 6am (GMT) on Saturday.

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