Lewis Hamilton

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Hamilton boosted by ’99 per cent perfect’ F1 practice in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton was given a boost ahead of the first round of the 2017 Formula 1 season in Australia on Sunday by enjoying a near-perfect day of practice at Albert Park.

Hamilton endured a difficult end to pre-season testing in Barcelona two weeks ago as Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel surged clear in the timesheets.

Ferrari’s pace was such that Hamilton said it was the favorite for victory this weekend in Melbourne, with the SF70H car produced by the Italian manufacturer appearing to have adjusted best to the new regulations for 2017.

Hamilton offered a plot twist in practice on Friday, though, heading up a Mercedes one-two in FP1 before leading once again in FP2, finishing half a second clear of the pack.

“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,” Hamilton said.

“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.

“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 tires performed really well today too.”

Hamilton refused to read too much into Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari in practice, believing the true difference between the two teams will only become clear in qualifying on Saturday.

“Coming into today, we really didn’t know where we’d be,” Hamilton said. “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 how it really stands.

“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.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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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.

Times are below:

More speed, but will Formula 1 be more of the same?

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Faster cars and fiercer competition are the great expectations of the new regulations in Formula One, yet the championship outlook hasn’t altered much ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton remains the hot favorite to win another title for Mercedes.

Hamilton won 10 GP events last season and was close to claiming his fourth drivers’ title but was narrowly beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who secured Mercedes a third consecutive championship and then retired.

While Hamilton talked about wanting more drivers competing for the title, and even tipped Ferrari to be quickest this weekend, he’s already lining up a victory he thinks would be unprecedented.

“I don’t believe (any) team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes,” Hamilton said Thursday during the first official news conference ahead of Sunday’s race. “So that’s our goal as a team. We’re here to win. We’re here to do what no-one else has done.

“I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive season titles from 2010-13 while he was racing for Red Bull, so he knows what it’s like to be in Hamilton’s position. He has no doubt who is favorite this season, regardless of the rule changes that dictated wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce and which are expected to make the heavier cars faster.

“Obviously Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years and even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do,” Vettel said. “It is very clear who is the favorite.

“For all of us sitting here we are obviously trying our best to catch up. As the season goes on obviously, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”

Ferrari had good results in the eight days of pre-season testing, and Hamilton predicted Vettel and former champion Kimi Raikkonen would have the fastest cars in the first practice sessions Friday and Saturday.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment – and I think they’ll definitely be the favorites,” said Hamilton, who was joined at Mercedes this season by former Williams driver Valterri Bottas. “It’s interesting to see, Sebastian is usually a lot more hype. I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.”

Hamilton said he couldn’t judge the pace of the Red Bulls in testing, saying they were “quite far behind” and he didn’t see many upgrades to the cars.

“I’m assuming they’re bringing something new,” he said, “which I’m excited to see.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished as the highest-ranked of the non-Mercedes drivers last season, winning the Malaysian GP and placing third in the season standings. He concedes Hamilton will start favorite, but is hoping for a shakeup at the top.

“I think for everyone it’s like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago – everyone wanted to see someone else win,” Ricciardo said. “It’s natural that people like change.

“For us drivers, not being in Mercedes, we want to see change as well. Even for the fact to have more cars fighting for the win makes it more exciting.”

Hamilton wanted more frequent changes to the regulations, to keep the cars getting faster and the competition “spicier.”

That’s something on which all the leading drivers could agree.

If Hamilton “wins a race against four of us as opposed to maybe just his teammate I think that reward is bigger as well,” said Ricciardo, who is aiming to be the first Australian to win the Australian GP since it became part of the world championship in 1985.

“If you can win against more … that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can take a few points away as well it kind of opens up the championship over the long time.”

Daniel Ricciardo open to NASCAR-style calendar for Formula 1

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Daniel Ricciardo is open to Formula 1 taking a leaf out of NASCAR’s book and fitting more races into a season in order to spend more time behind the wheel of his car.

2016 was the longest season in F1 history, featuring 21 races, but the sport’s new owner, Liberty Media, is thought to be considering an expansion to as many as 25 events per year.

NASCAR enjoys a more intense schedule that F1, fitting 36 rounds into a season that lasts from February to November and features very few rest weeks.

When asked if F1 should expand to have more races, Ricciardo was receptive of the idea, believing that the logistical challenge would be the biggest task for teams to grapple with.

“I think it depends on how they structure it. It’s not too many,” Ricciardo said of a potential 25-race calendar.

“NASCAR do 36 or something. It’s a lot but the travel’s a lot less because they’re just in the U.S. So, I think it depends logistically how they do it.

“I like racing. If it means just racing and no testing and less other stuff then… maybe. We spend more days in front of cameras and other things than actually behind the wheel of a racing car.

“I’d be open to the idea.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton echoed Ricciardo’s thoughts, but wants the weekend format to be shaken up to offer drivers some variety.

“I think if you asked any member of my team whether they’d want to do more races or less, they’d ask for more,” Hamilton said.

“It is definitely tough on the guys that are traveling but they love it. They’re addicted to it. They love motor racing. I’m like Daniel, I love racing.

“So I’m not opposed to more races but I think they’ve got to change the structure, at least on different weekends. If it’s the same four days for 25 races, I think that would be too much.

“If they spice it up and make a period during the season that’s perhaps more exciting than another, I think there’s a lot they can do.”

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel urged caution, though, believing that F1 has already hit its limit with a 20-race schedule for 2017.

“I think 25 is too many. I think 20 is enough, we don’t need more,” Vettel said.

“I think anything between 16 and 20 is the right number. Also, thinking of the efforts going in from the team point of view.

“For us it’s fairly easy, arriving more or less with hand luggage, doing the job and getting back. I think we’re on the better side. For a lot of the team, for the staff, it’s hard work.

“So, I think we are having enough races.”

Hamilton maintains Ferrari is F1 favorite, says Vettel is cooling hype

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Lewis Hamilton has maintained that Ferrari is the team to beat heading into this weekend’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia, believing that Sebastian Vettel is trying hard to keep a lid on the hype surrounding his chances.

Hamilton enters 2017 chasing a fourth world title after losing out to ex-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg last year, and is one of the favorites for the drivers’ championship.

Ferrari sprung a surprise in testing by finishing as the fastest team ahead of Mercedes – winner of over 50 races in the last three years alone – after capitalizing on the change in the technical regulations for this year.

Hamilton said throughout testing that he believed Ferrari would be the team to beat in Melbourne, and did not change his view in the Thursday press conference ahead of Sunday’s race.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment and I think they will definitely be the favorites, but we’ll find out more going into the weekend,” Hamilton said.

“It’s interesting to see, Sebastian’s usually a lot more hyped and I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.

“I’m very keen to see what Red Bull bring because they were quite far behind through testing, at least compared to Ferrari and didn’t see them bring many upgrades, or an upgrade as far as I could see.

“So I’m assuming they’re bringing something here which I’m excited to see what they do bring.”

Hamilton has ordinarily battled with just one driver – Rosberg – for race wins over the past three years given Mercedes’ pace advantage, but is excited about the prospect of battling with multiple racers from different teams at the front in 2017.

“Having more teams and more drivers up at the front fighting for wins, that’s what racing is all about. I’m hoping that’s the case,” Hamilton said.

“As far as I know, no team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes, so that is our goal as a team. We’re here to win, we’re here to do something no-one else has done.

“Whether or not we’re in the right place at this moment in the season, we’ll find out. But I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”