of 1:23.529s, posted for Red Bull in qualifying ahead of his 2011 race victory.
“Hamilton is in a league of his own at the moment,” Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said.
“His one-lap pace was really good and he took the ultrasofts for 17 laps and was stable. I’m happy.”
Ferrari were expected to press Hamilton and the Mercedes team after superior times in pre-season testing, but on the evidence of the opening two sessions Hamilton is again the driver to beat in tomorrow’s season-opener.
“I’m super-happy to be back in the car, particularly after a first day like that. It was 99 per cent perfect,” Hamilton said.
“We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to. The tyres performed really well today too.
“I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”
Hamilton’s time was more than
The cars have a minimum weight limit, minus fuel but with driver included, which has been increased this season. The aim is to carry as little extra as possible for maximum advantage.
Perez’s French teammate Esteban Ocon said he had put on three seconds faster than his best lap in last year’s corresponding free practice in Melbourne.
Finland’s Bottas slotted smoothly into the Mercedes team environment with a best lap of 1:24.176.s
“I definitely feel like I can make a step forward. It’ll be a busy evening for us looking through all the data to see where we can improve, but it’s a reasonable start,” Bottas said.
Ferrari improved markedly on their opening practice, with Vettel unleashing the second best lap time in FP2 with 1:24.167s while teammate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth with 1:24.525s.
“We (were) very happy at testing — times looked good, but here is where it matters,” Vettel said.
“The car hasn’t changed much and it’s good to be back but we can still improve.”
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were over a second behind Hamilton and halfa-second five kilos of muscle over the winter, and other drivers reported similar gains.
In past seasons, it was generally felt that every five kg of extra weight made the car 0.2 seconds a lap slower — a significant amount in a sport measured in off Vettel’s Ferrari.
“We can still get more out of it. This morning was promising but we tried a few things this afternoon and they didn’t work as much as we’d like,” said Ricciardo, bidding to become the race’s first Aussie winner in 37 years.
“Mercedes sure are quick but it’s more Lewis than Valtteri. I think we can be up there. Pole (position) may be a stretch but we’re in that next little group.”
Verstappen missed out on the later long runs after damaging his car’s floor when running over the gravel on the exit of turn 10.
“I had a bit of understeer, so went off the track and damaged the floor,” Verstappen said. “We tried to find a better balance and we are just a bit too slow. We are where I expected us to be.”
The second session was stopped after a big crash for Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, who lost the rear of his car on the last corner and spun into the barriers.
“I’m fine,” Palmer told his team over the radio. The shunt damaged thousandths of a second.
Perez said he had lost two or three kilos since testing ended but expected to be able to put the muscle back once the team were happier with reliability and could take weight out of the car. Reuters the car’s rear suspension, while the rear wing was detached.
Palmer missed the remainder of the session, in a blow to his preparations for the weekend race.
Brazilian Felipe Massa stopped his Williams car at Turn 11 after reporting he could not engage gears, and walked back to the team garage.
The troubled McLaren team had no on-track breakdowns on the opening day with Fernando Alonso finishing in a respectable 12th place. AFP
Force India’s Sergio Perez (left) and teammate Esteban Ocon before the opening practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne yesterday.