Lewis Hamilton fastest in Australian GP practice

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Melbourne
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes are expected to dominate in the first qualifying session of the season

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton dominated final practice at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The champion was 0.696s seconds clear of his closest challenger, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, with Hamilton's team-mate Nico Rosberg third.

Williams's Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were next, then Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus's Romain Grosjean.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was only 13th, and McLaren's Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button were 14th and 16th.

McLaren-Honda look likely to qualify at the back. They were 3.5 seconds off the pace and ahead only of Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat, who did just six laps because of engine problems.

The two Manor cars did not run, and are now unlikely to take any part in this weekend.

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Hamilton was untouchable throughout the session, fastest from Rosberg in the first part on the medium tyre by 0.2secs and then in a different league when the teams switched to the soft tyres that will be used in qualifying.

Hamilton was 0.954secs faster than Rosberg on the soft tyre. The German did two laps within 0.1secs of each other.

Mercedes said Rosberg did not have any particular problem but did not hook his lap together.

The two Mercedes cars looked a handful - both Hamilton and Rosberg ran off the track during the session - but are clearly on a separate level from any other car.

Andrew Benson at Albert Park in Melbourne
"It could hardly be a more perfect day for the first competitive action the new season. Bright blue Australian skies, glorious sunshine, and temperatures in the high 20Cs.
The downtown skyscrapers as a backdrop, Albert Park looks at its most perfect as Formula 1 prepares to reveal what may be in store for the new season.

Vettel's pace underlines the belief that Ferrari are in a more competitive position this year after making a big step in the performance of their engine and improving the drivability of their car, too.

Raikkonen was 0.454secs slower than Vettel, a similar sort of margin to the advantage Fernando Alonso typically had over the Finn last season, which was Ferrari's worst for 21 years.

Alonso has moved to McLaren but is missing this race after suffering concussion in an accident in pre-season testing last month.

His team admit they do not know when the Spaniard will return, or what caused his accident.

BBC F1 analyst Allan McNish said: "The battle for the front row of the grid is going to be between the two Mercedes, but I am going to stick Vettel as the best of the rest. I think the Ferrari has the legs of the Williams at the moment.

Sebastian Vettel
Separating the two Mercedes in the final practice was Sebastian Vettel with his new team, Ferrari

"But for me the stars have been the two young Toro Rosso drivers. They have done a very good job so far this weekend."

Toro Rosso are fielding two rookie drivers this season, Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Dutchman Max Verstappen.

Sainz was ninth fastest, behind Lotus's Pastor Maldonado. Verstappen, at 17 the youngest driver in F1 history by more than two years, was 11th, behind Sauber's Felipe Nasr.

Sauber resolved their court dispute with former reserve driver Giedo Van Der Garde overnight after the Dutchman won a ruling that he had a valid contract for this season.

The two parties will have further talks to hammer out a settlement after returning to Europe following this race.

Qualifying starts at 06:00 BST on a warm and sunny day in Melbourne's attractive Albert Park - with live coverage from 05:00 GMT.

Rain is forecast for later in the evening but it is not expected to affect the action on track.

Australian GP practice results

Australian GP coverage details

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