As the rain came and went at Melbourne’s Albert Park, the circuit was never totally dry during the 90 minutes, and several men took trips through the gravel. The only one to get beached was local hero Daniel Ricciardo, right at the very end of the session. The Red Bull driver was third, nonetheless, a second down on Hamilton.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg were fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, followed by the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, the latter completing the most laps of anyone with 16. Force India’s Sergio Perez and Renault’s Kevin Magnussen completed the top ten.
When the session got underway parts of the track were drying after earlier rainfall, but the start of sector two under the trees remained wet enough to throw up spray.
It was Rosberg who set the initial pace on intermediates with 1m 44.037s, a time subsequently bettered easily by Hamilton with 1m 40.812s, until Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen trimmed it at the one-hour mark to 1m 40.754s as conditions improved further.
As things got better still, Ricciardo got down to 1m 34.007s on mediums, and then 1m 32.394s, as team mate Kvyat posted 1m 34.123s for second. Cue a sudden rush to get out on track as the conditions reached their best.
But after Alonso had moved to third for McLaren on 1m 36.957s, and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer had temporarily bested team mate Kevin Magnussen with 1m 45.772s to 1m 46.109s, both on inters, it began raining again.
That didn’t stop Button using inters to move to sixth with 1m 43.217s, until Max Verstappen took the highly rated Toro Rosso round in 1m 40.249s – faster than Raikkonen had gone on the same inters in better conditions, and then cut that down to 1m 40.075s.
With 35 minutes to go, Force India, Williams, Sauber, Manor, Haas, the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz had yet to register any timed laps.
Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez put part of that right immediately afterwards, however, moving to ninth with 1m 45.771s on inters despite inconsistent power delivery. Moments later team mate Romain Grosjean’s first lap put him ninth on 1m 43.443s as Gutierrez climbed to seventh with 1m 41.780s.
As the session moved into its final half hour the sun actually returned to Albert Park. Time for the big guns to come back out.
Verstappen went out on softs but came to grief momentarily when he spun on a wet patch going around Turn 6 , flat-spotting them as he slid to a halt. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Manor rookie Rio Haryanto also has hairy moments as they took trips through different gravel traps.
Hulkenberg was more successful, putting Force India on top with 1m 31.681s. He improved that to 1m 31.325s before Kvyat went ahead with 1m 30.146ss, but Hamilton settled things with 1m 29.725s and was on an even faster lap when the rain came back and washed away everyone else’s hopes. Among them was Vettel, who ended up without a time, and Rosberg who had to be content with only sixth. The new downpour caught out Raikkonen at Turn 13, and Ricciardo, who ended up in the gravel at Turn 12.
It was thus something of an inconclusive first session, but it was a start. Good for Mercedes, Red Bull, Force India and Toro Rosso, reasonable for McLaren and Renault, unspectacular for Williams and frustrating for Ferrari and a car-troubled Sainz, who managed just three laps and was the only other driver not to set a time.
VIDEO: Ricciardo beached as rain kicks in
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