WATCH LIVE: Can Mercedes bounce back in FP2 Down Under?

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Heading into this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, the majority of F1 experts were tipping Mercedes to be the team to beat and dominate every session. Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner even went as far to say that the team could lap the field twice.

However, the first practice session was a very different story for the German team. After just five minutes of running and half a lap completed, Lewis Hamilton – the championship favorite – came to a stop on the exit of turn ten and was forced to abandon his W05 car. His session ended there and then due to an oil pressure sensor problem, and Mercedes all of a sudden was in a fluster. The team to beat had lost ground.

Instead, it was Fernando Alonso who topped the timesheets ahead of Jenson Button and the two Williams drivers. Although it was only the first session of the race weekend, it was interesting to see how much had changed since Bahrain. Most notably, Red Bull appears to have made a step forward, with Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel both finishing inside the top ten.

FP2 begins at 1:30am ET and is live on NBCSN and Live Extra. CLICK HERE to watch the live stream and see if Mercedes can bounce back from this disappointment and show its true colors in the second practice session.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.