Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.
Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.
Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.
Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.
Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.
The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.
McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.
The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.
“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.
Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”
Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.
“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.
Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.