It’s been a long winter. But as the new cars headed back out on track for the first competitive running of the 2019 Formula 1 season ahead of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, it was Mercedes’ world champion Lewis Hamilton who got off to the best start, heading Free Practice 1 in Melbourne – although his chief rival from last year, Sebastian Vettel was just 0.038s behind for Ferrari.
As we finally got a taste of the competitive order for 2019, it seemed that there was little to choose between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Hamilton, Vettel and third-placed Charles Leclerc separated by just 0.074s, while Red Bull will have been cheered to see Max Verstappen just 0.193s adrift of the ultimate pace, as the team got up to speed with their new Honda power units for 2019.
Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Mercedes, while Kimi Raikkonen showed that there was pace in his new Alfa Romeo C38, as the Finn headed the midfield in sixth place, 1.217s off Hamilton’s time. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat revealed the pace that’s in the heavily Red Bull-derived STR14 to go P7 and actually head the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, who said ahead of FP1 that he was still trying to get comfortable in his new RB15.
Nico Hulkenberg had to wait over an hour to set a competitive time, his Renault R.S.19 suffering electrical problems that kept him consigned to the pits following his installation lap. The German ended the session in 10th, one place behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen – but a full seven places ahead of his headline-grabbing new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was P17.