F1 2018 Friday Practice: Hamilton quickest but top teams closely matched

(Photo credit: Eugene Flores

Lewis Hamilton finished P2 ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to complete his dominance of Friday’s double practice session. The Mercedes driver reinforced his status as favourite for the opening race of the 2018 F1 season in Melbourne this weekend.

The Brit clocked up 1:23.931, a slight improvement on his earlier time to keep his team ahead of the challengers. However, Verstappen’s performance bodes well for those hoping for a competitive race at Albert Park on Sunday. 

The beginning of the second session was most notable for the lack of activity, with four minutes passing before Kevin Magnussen’s car finally appeared. But once the cars hit the tarmac, the flying laps began. The Red Bulls and Mercedes traded blows early on wearing the soft compound tyres before Hamilton headed out on the supersofts to post an early benchmark of 1:24.385. Verstappen nearly matched this while still on the softs but it took a flyer on the ultrasofts from Kimi Raikkonen to usurp the Mercedes driver.

Ferrari’s place at the top of the board didn’t last long as the reigning world champion posted 1:23.931 on the ultrasofts, while Bottas also pipped the Italian team into third. The Mercedes duo were then split as Verstappen donned the ultrasofts and squeezed ahead of the Finn.

Raikonnen finished 0.283 off the pace in fourth ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo looked all set to join the top three when a red flag (due to debris on the track) put a stop to his flying lap - he was a just a tenth down on his Dutch colleague at the time. When the session resumed, focus turned to longer runs and the leader board remained unchanged.

Further down the field, Romain Grosjean posted a best-of-the-rest 1:24.648 to claim sixth spot for Haas. Former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso finished the session in eighth, 1.269 down on pace-setter Hamilton. Lance Stroll brought his Williams home ahead of both Toro Rossos and Estaban Ocon’s Force India, while the two Saubers brought up the rear.

With just over half a second separating the top five and Ricciardo also looking quick, it promises to be an intriguing weekend of racing at the front of the grid. And with 18th-ranked Sirotkin finishing just seven-tenths behind Fernando Alonso, the midfield battle also looks perfectly set up.

FP2 Times

  1. Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:23.931
  2. Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:24.058
  3. Bottas (Mercedes) 1:24.159
  4. Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:24.214
  5. Vettel (Ferrari) 1:24.451
  6. Grosjean (Haas) 1:24.648
  7. Ricciardo (Red Bull)   1:24.721
  8. Alonso (McLaren) 1:25.200
  9. Magnussen (Haas) 1:25.246
  10. Vandoorne (McLaren) 1:25.285
  11. Sainz Jr (Renault) 1:25.390
  12. Perez (Force India) 1:25.413
  13. Hulkenberg (Renault) 1:25.463
  14. Stroll (Williams) 1:25.543
  15. Ocon (Force India) 1:25.888
  16. Hartley (Toro Rosso) 1:25.925
  17. Gasly (Toro Rosso) 1:25.945
  18. Sirotkin (Williams) 1:25.974
  19. Ericsson (Sauber) 1:26.814
  20. Leclerc (Sauber) 1:26.815
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