Hamilton heads up Mercedes 1-2 in second practice

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Lewis Hamilton has bounced back from a problematic opening session in Melbourne to head up a Mercedes 1-2 during second practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

The 2008 world champion completed just half a lap during the morning session due to a problem with the oil pressure sensor, but he responded in perfect fashion to top second practice on Friday evening at Albert Park.

Hamilton was closely followed at the top of the timesheets by teammate Nico Rosberg, underlining Mercedes’ title of pre-season favorites. However, the pace of both Red Bull and Ferrari suggests that the Silver Arrows may not have it all their own way this weekend.

The second session got underway with a number of drivers heading out early in order to make up for any time lost during the first 90-minute practice on Friday. Marcus Ericsson and Adrian Sutil were two of the first drivers out, with the latter setting the initial benchmark of 1:38.055 in his Sauber. However, this did not last long at the top of the timesheets as Rosberg soon claimed P1 with a lap of 1:32.013.

Having seen Fernando Alonso finish fastest in FP1, Ferrari appeared to be in good spirits, but the team hit trouble with its second car as Kimi Raikkonen failed to select first gear and had to be pushed back to his box from the end of the pit lane. The Finn did manage to return to the track once his car had been reset.

Meanwhile, Red Bull looked to bounce back from a difficult pre-season and showed some very encouraging pace. Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to better Rosberg’s time, but the German soon re-claimed top spot. Sebastian Vettel underlined the pace of the RB10 soon after though, moving up into second place between Rosberg and his teammate, but he was pushed down one place by Fernando Alonso who claimed P2 at the halfway point in the session.

With 40 minutes remaining, Lewis Hamilton rose to the top of the timesheets with a lap that was 0.157 seconds quicker than his teammate’s. This time would ultimately be good enough for him to finish fastest of all.

In the final third of the session, the times remained relatively unchanged as the teams began to focus on their long runs with high fuel. After an extended period in the pits, Romain Grosjean managed to come out on track, but the Lotus E22 was clearly a handful as a he wrestled with the car through the final sector.

Caterham’s weekend failed to improve as Ericsson failed to set a time whilst Kamui Kobayashi could not even complete an installation lap due to a problem with the power unit on his CT-05 car.

In terms of long run pace, Mercedes and Red Bull were closely matched in the final part of the session, with Williams lingering around half a second back. For all of the problems that the world champions have suffered throughout the winter, there finally appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

With five minutes to go, both Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg went off into the gravel and beached their cars, bringing out waved yellow flags whilst they were recovered.

Come the checkered flag, Hamilton and Rosberg comfortably occupied the top two positions, suggesting that Mercedes is still the team to beat in Australia this weekend.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.