F1 2017 Australian Grand Prix: Hamilton quickest in practice with ‘99 per cent perfect’ car

PUBLISHED: 10:17 24 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:39 26 March 2017

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG]

Lewis Hamilton in practice for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG]

Daimler AG

Three-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first two practice sessions for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

After all the pre-season testing talk in Spain, it was business as usual for the Mercedes team around the Albert Park circuit today.

Hamilton topped the timesheets in both practice sessions at the picturesque Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

The 32-year-old Silver Arrows driver from Hertfordshire went quickest in the morning session ahead of new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with a lap time of 1m 24.220s.

Bottas was in P2 with a time of 1m 24.803.

Hamilton continued to set the pace in the afternoon session with the fastest time of the day, a 1m 23.620s, as Bottas rounded off his first Grand Prix Friday with the Silver Arrows third fastest. Hamilton was half a second quicker than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Both Mercedes drivers ran all three compounds in the morning session. Lewis then used the Soft and UltraSoft in the afternoon, while Valtteri used the SuperSoft and UltraSoft.

After showing strong early form around the Melbourne circuit, Hamilton said: “It’s great to be back in Australia and I’m super happy to be back in the car – particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect.

“After struggling with some issues in Barcelona, we didn’t know if we’d have the same thing here.

“What’s really encouraging is that we’ve arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be.

“It’s feeling great out there and the guys have done a fantastic job.”

The Stevenage-born racer added: “We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to.

“The tyres performed really well today, too.

“Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be.

“We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum. Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick.

“We’ll see tomorrow [Saturday] how it really stands.”

Hamilton also thanked the crowd for cheering him on.

He said: “I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There’s always a great buzz here and a lot of support.

“I’m just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, was pleased to see Lewis at the top of the practice timesheets.

He said: “Lewis had a very good day day. For the team it was an important day too after some question marks in Barcelona.”

Hamilton’s new Mercedes colleague Bottas said: “It was great to be back on track after Barcelona and overall it was a good day today.

“We still have work to do with the car balance but we got all of our running completed without any issues.

“From my side I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow.

“It’ll be a busy evening for us tonight looking through all the data to see where we can improve but it’s a reasonable start.”

The Finn added: “In terms of our pace, it is only practice, so tomorrow we’ll find out exactly where we are.

“These tyre compounds are the right choice for this race. The softer compounds all felt good.

“Everyone is pushing to the limit, as we saw a few times out there today.

“This track is always quite dirty at the start of the weekend, but we’ll get used to it.”

Mercedes’ new technical director James Allison felt it was a good day at the office.

Allison said: “It always seems like a bit of a cliché to say that we were pleased to get through our programme smoothly.

“But in the first practice sessions of a new season – particularly under new regulations like these – it’s especially important to achieve that and also to leave the car intact for Saturday.

“On both counts, I think we can say that today was a smooth day.

“Our programme focused on trying out the various tyre compounds that we have available this weekend to see what kind of pace and degradation we can expect from them.

“We also worked to ensure the car has a reasonable balance with race fuel and lower fuel.

“Our long run pace looked decent but it’s harder to tell where we stand at this stage in terms of single lap pace.

“We’ll find out tomorrow [in qualifying]. Overall the car seems strong, so we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.”

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