Britain’s Lewis Hamilton put in a scintillating performance to set the pace in second practice at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
He was 0.547secs clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in second, who was just 0.009secs quicker than Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton’s margin over Bottas will raise questions over whether it is car or driver that has the advantage.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was fifth, behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
This is Bottas’ first race for the Mercedes team after replacing world champion Nico Rosberg, who retired at the end of last season, and on the evidence of the first running of the new season the Finn is struggling to get on terms with Hamilton. The three-time world champion was also fastest during the first practice session.
Ferrari impressed sufficiently in pre-season testing for Mercedes to believe that the Italian team were at least on their pace, if not slightly quicker.
That Ferrari speed has not so far been in evidence this weekend, and the red cars were if anything even further off the pace of Mercedes in the race-simulation runs on heavy fuel loads later in the session – Raikkonen was a second off Hamilton’s pace.
However, the cars will not be seen in their ultimate quickest trim until qualifying on Saturday.
Red Bull expected to be the third quickest team this weekend, and that is the way it is panning out so far, with Ricciardo 0.5secs quicker than team-mate Max Verstappen, who lost what would have been his quickest lap with an nerve-wracking off-track moment at the 150mph swerves of Turns 11 and 12.
Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz headed the midfield runners in seventh place ahead of the Haas of Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
The German’s team-mate Jolyon Palmer ended his session in the wall at Turn 16 after losing control on the way into the quick right-hander and smashing the car badly before coming to rest in the middle of the track and bringing the session to a temporary halt.
Fernando Alonso had a better day than many were expecting in the McLaren-Honda, setting 12th quickest time, albeit 2.4secs off the pace.
The Honda is still carrying reliability concerns as a result of a vibration, which appears to be the cause for a nasty grinding sound that can be heard from the car as the driver changes up through the gears.
Alonso was 0.6secs and five places ahead of his highly rated rookie team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.