Lewis Hamilton fastest ahead of F1 2019 Australian Grand Prix qualifying
PUBLISHED: 10:41 15 March 2019 | UPDATED: 07:17 16 March 2019
© Wolfgang Wilhelm for Daimler AG
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton set the practice pace in Melbourne ahead of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix qualifying.
The 34-year-old Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 driver from Hertfordshire topped the time sheets in both of Friday’s free practice sessions around the Albert Park street circuit.
Hamilton finished the first session of the year in P1 with a lap of 1m 23.599s, with Silver Arrows colleague Valtteri Bottas in P5.
In the afternoon session, Stevenage racer Lewis topped the time sheets again, this time with a lap of 1m 22.600, with Bottas in P2 with a 1m 22.648s.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was down in fourth place after the Prancing Horse had appeared quickest in pre-season testing, leading to speculation that the Maranello team were hiding their true pace.
Nevertheless, it was a trouble-free day for the Mercedes team in Australia.
Five-time world champion Hamilton said: “It’s really nice to get back out on track.
“The weather is fantastic, we’ve already got quite a big crowd.
“I have a positive buzz from driving the car today – this is what I love doing.
“The car feels like it’s in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is positive coming to a different track.”
The Mercedes team worked on the F1 W10 EQ car’s set-up and balance today ahead of Saturday’s crucial qualifying session.
Hamilton, who has started on pole seven times in Australia, said: “We got through our programme really well, there were no issues on track.
“There’s plenty of stuff that we can improve on, but this was not a bad start.
“What we have to do now is really study and analyse everything, as we always do on a Friday night.
“But the fact is we’ve got two cars that continue to go around, none of us made a mistake and we kept the cars in one piece – that counts for a lot.”
Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas said: “It’s nice to be back in a race car, doing the thing we love to do – I had fun today.
“The car felt better than it did in testing. We didn’t bring a lot of new parts to the car, but we were able to optimise the package that we have.
“It was a solid day for the first day back in the office, but the times are not important on a Friday.
“We haven’t seen the full performance from any of the other teams.
“We have an idea of how much we can improve for qualifying, but we have no idea how much performance the other teams can still bring.
“It will be interesting to see what the first competitive session holds tomorrow.”
Technical director James Allison felt it was a good day at the office, but there’s still work to do to qualify on the front row on Saturday.
“It was a pretty productive day today, we achieved a decent balance with both drivers on both tyres,” said Allison.
“We also ran some new bits and they seem to work okay.
“It’s way too early in the weekend to have any sort of real idea of where we stand on pace, but what we do know is that the car seems to be handling reasonably well and it seems to have good tyre degradation on both compounds that we ran, which is a good sign for tomorrow, but we will only get a clear picture of where we stand later in the weekend.”
Ahead of the first F1 weekend of the 2019 season in Australia, Mercedes team principal and CEO Toto Wolff said: “Everyone in Brackley and Brixworth has poured so much effort and commitment into this new car, so we’re excited to finally see it compete on track in Melbourne.
“Last year, we had to give it absolutely everything to come out on top.
“From what we have learned so far, this year will be even tougher.
“It will push us to our limits – and that’s an exciting prospect for every single one of us.”
Wolff added: “Judging from the performance in Barcelona, it looks like we will have a proper fight on our hands in Melbourne.
“But an F1 season is not just about who comes out of the blocks quickest; under new regulations like we have this year, it is about who is able to adapt best to the new rules and the new tyres and all the challenges that we will have to master during the year.
“The most adaptable and agile team will come out on top this season.
“We have shown in the past that we are fast and flexible and that we can handle every curveball thrown at us.
“We’re ready for the fight and look forward to the crazy rollercoaster of a new F1 season.”
When does 2019 Australian Grand Prix qualifying start?
Qualifying for the 2019 Australian Grand Prix starts at 6am GMT on Saturday.
The race on Sunday will start at 5.10am GMT.