Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were in imperious form in the first practice session of the new Formula 1 season.
The world champion was 0.551secs clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and 0.745 clear of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.
However, the Dutchman did not run the fastest ultra-soft tyre and neither did Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth.
Fernando Alonso recovered from reliability problems to be eighth quickest, behind Haas’ Romain Grosjean.
The order of the teams looked very like the impression that had been given by pre-season testing.
Mercedes were in front, followed by the closely matched Red Bull and Ferrari, then a gap to Haas, McLaren and Renault, also covered by fractions, and then Toro Rosso, Williams and Force India.
But it is Mercedes’ pace that will send shivers up and down the pit lane – and perhaps among followers of F1 around the world.
It is early days – too early to draw a firm conclusion – but the metronomic consistency of Hamilton, who set a number of laps all quicker than anyone else, and his advantage over the field appeared ominous.
However, Hamilton has a special affinity with the Albert Park track, where the low-grip track surface, bumpy braking zones and go-karty feel plays to some of his many strengths.
And there was encouragement to be found in Verstappen’s pace on the slower super-soft tyre. And Vettel had a slightly scrappy session in the Ferrari, including running wide on to the grass at Turn 13 at one stage, and did not show his best.
Equally, Raikkonen, the faster of the two Ferrari drivers, set his quickest time on the slowest ‘soft’ tyre, so some of the gap between Hamilton and the Ferrari will also be in the rubber.
Daniel Ricciardo brought up the rear of the drivers from the big three teams, just under 0.3secs slower than team-mate Verstappen in sixth. (Courtesy BBC)