Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheet in the first practice session of the 2019 Formula 1 season, edging Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.038 seconds in Melbourne.
Hamilton had trailed Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the times after the first 40 minutes of the session.
However, his 1m23.599s time propelled him to first place and 0.267s clear of Bottas and nearly half a second faster than last year’s FP1 pace.
While Hamilton remained top of the times, Bottas was shuffled further down the order as the 90-minute session unfolded.
The Ferrari duo of Vettel and Charles Leclerc were evenly matched slotting into second and third place.
Vettel was just 0.038s adrift of Hamilton and Leclerc was just a further 0.036s behind in his first session at a grand prix weekend as a Ferrari driver.
Bottas, who was beaten to fourth by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, ran off-track at Turn 15 late in the session after dipping his outside wheels into the grass on corner entry.
Quickly spinning the car around in the run-off area, Bottas narrowly avoided shaving the wall with the rear end of his W10 Mercedes.
Toro Rosso’s rookie Alexander Albon was the only driver to hit the barriers during the session. He spun at Turn 2, with both the front and rear of the car striking the wall.
A red flag was thrown, despite Albon being able to recover to the pits missing his front wing but with seemingly minor damage to the rest of the car.
His team-mate Daniil Kvyat was seventh. Both the Russian and sixth placed Kimi Raikkonen for Alfa Romeo improved late in the session to demote Red Bull newcomer Pierre Gasly to eighth on the timesheet.
Nico Hulkenberg spent the majority of the session in the garage after an electrical issue emerged on his Renault after his installation lap. The floor of the car had to be removed as part of the investigation.
He only posted his first timed lap in the final 20 minutes of running and climbed to an eventual 10th place behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
Hulkenberg’s new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was blocked by Romain Grosjean in the final sector after posting two personal bests in the first two splits.
Ricciardo improved with his next lap but could only manage a time good enough for 17th.
Just over one second covered Raikkonen in sixth place to McLaren’s Lando Norris in 18th, as the midfield battle appears to be as close as predicted.
Williams were adrift at the back of the pack. Robert Kubica was 4.3s off the pace in 19th, while Formula 2 champion George Russell stopped at the end of the pitlane during the session and finished bottom of the timesheet.