Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton set the pace in the first Formula 1® practice session of the year on Friday.
The Briton zipped around Melbourne’s iconic Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit in a best time of 1:23.599 but title rival Sebastian Vettel was just 0.038 seconds off the pace of the five-time world champion.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc, finished Free Practice 1 third fastest in an encouraging sign for the Maranello-based team.
Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo eased through the opening session, finishing 17th fastest with just 16 laps to his name.
Only Nico Hulkenberg – Ricciardo’s Renault teammate – completed less laps, the German finishing just 11 after suffering an electrical issue during the first half of the 90-minute session.
Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon was the first Formula 1® driver to crash for the weekend, the rookie spinning at the exit of Turn 2 and losing his front wing as he spun around.
The 22-year-old was able to carry on and return to Pit Lane, while a red flag was briefly shown to clear the debris.
Shortly after, Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas had a close shave with the wall at the entry of Turn 15 but escaped with no damage.
Bottas finished fifth fastest, behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Free Practice 2 also takes place on Friday, with teams getting another 90 minutes to finetune proceedings ahead of Saturday’s Free Practice 3 and much-anticipated qualifying session.
Limited tickets are still available for the Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2019. The event runs from 14-17 March at Melbourne’s iconic Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit.
— Australian Grand Prix #AusGP (@ausgrandprix) March 15, 2019