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Hamilton heads Vettel in second session

NEWS STORY
24/03/2017

Ahead of today's second free practice session, the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 35 degrees. It remains somewhat overcast, and though the sun is trying to break through but there is a 0% chance of rain.

There was a certain sense of déjà vu in FP1, the Mercedes duo leading the way, followed by the Red Bulls and Ferraris.

The Silver Arrows were the only team to try the ultrasofts, hence the pace, however Valtteri Bottas will no doubt be surprised to find himself 0.583s on his new teammate.

The Ferrari pair were late in switching from softs to supersofts, with Vettel completing just 10 laps.

Before you start saying 'here we go again', however, remember that this is the opening day of the season, today is virtually a continuation of Barcelona. It is tomorrow afternoon when things get serious.

That said, it was a difficult morning for Esteban Ocon, Jolyon Palmer and Stoffel Vandoorne who all incurred technical issues.

The fact that drivers now have just four engines to last them all season means that mileage is at a premium, which probably account for Vettel's lack of running and two lengthy periods when there was absolutely no track action.

At a time Liberty Media is pushing for Grands Prix to have the impact of the Super Bowl, imagine all the players leaving the field a couple of times during the course of the game in order to save the one pair of boots they are allotted for the season.

The lights go green and Grosjean leads the way. At the back of the Sauber garage Ericsson is undergoing some strange warm-up ritual.

Magnussen is the second driver to head out, putting Haas firmly in the spotlight.

Grosjean stops the clock at 1:26.912, while Magnussen posts 27.307, both on the supersoft rubber. Neither of the Haas cars has the T-wing that was seen vibrating in FP1.

Alonso's car is up on its stand, while there is serious work going on on the cars of Verstappen and Vettel also. Indeed, the floor has been removed from the Red Bull.

Vandoorne posts the third time of the day (29.512) as Grosjean runs wide and takes a trip through the gravel at T1, shortly after teammate Magnussen has a big lock-up, the Dane is subsequently told to "slow down, slow down and box".

Grosjean improves to 26.780 as Ricciardo posts 27.25 to go second.

Massa goes quickest (26.367) despite only being quickest in S3.

A good lap from Kvyat, on softs, who goes second with a 26.391. Massa and Grosjean were on supers while Ricciardo was on softs.

Also on softs, Hamilton goes quickest with a 25.283, putting over a second between himself and Massa.

Bottas, unlike his teammate, on the supers, posts 25.149 having been quickest in the first two sectors.

Vettel and Raikkonen are on track, both on the supersofts. The Finn posts 25.087 to displace his countryman, though he is only quickest in S1.

Quickest in S2, Vettel loses time behind Hamilton in S3 and therefore can only manage 25.568 which puts him 4th.

No sooner has Stroll complained about Raikkonen's pace - or lack of it - than the Finn repays the compliment.

In the Haas garage Magnussen is out of his car, the issue with the car looking to be fairly serious.

On the softs, Hamilton closes to within 0.170s of the new pace-setter Vettel who tops the timesheets with a 24.926.

Twenty minutes into the session and all but Alonso and Verstappen have posted times. However, that's about to change for the Dutch youngster is heading out.

Alonso is also on track, the Spaniard heading down the pitlane as Vettel heads into his garage.

The session is red flagged as Palmer crashes heavily at the final corner. Thankfully he is OK, and climbs from the badly damaged Renault.

The Briton lost the back of the Renault and went backwards into the tyre barrier, spinning and then clouting the barrier with the front, finally ending up in the middle of the track.

Waiting in the pits, Vettel has switched to the ultrasofts.

As the car is lifted on to a flat-bed truck the damage is significant. Thing is, does the team have the spares available.

Arriving back in the pits with his helmet firmly in place, the initial suggestion is driver error. Though that is speculation.

The debris cleared, the session resumes at 16:32.

Vettel heads out on ultras, as do Grosjean and Stroll. Verstappen and Alonso also on track, both on supers and both yet to post a time.

More and more drivers head out, most on the purple-banded rubber.

Massa grinds to a halt at T9, the Brazilian complaining that he hasn't got any gears. The resultant double-yellow wrecks the qualifying simulations that a number of drivers were on.

Frustrating for Hamilton who had gone quickest in S1.

Another off for Grosjean who runs wide in T3 and heads off into the gravel. "This set of brakes is... difficult," he advises the team.

Verstappen goes second with a 25.013, the teenager on the supersoft.

Hamilton and Bottas both look set to improve as the pair trade fastest sector times. Bottas posts 24.176 but Hamilton raises the bar with a 23.620. Both are on the ultrasofts.

Vettel posts 24.167, but remains 0.547s off Hamilton's pace.

Raikkonen runs wide at T1 and takes a quick trip across the grass.

Ocon is currently matching his teammate, the Force India pair tenth and eleventh, though both around 2s off the pace.

Raikkonen improves to fourth, leapfrogging Verstappen, but he is 0.98s off Hamilton's pace.

Shortly after, Ricciardo (ultra) posts 24.650 to go fifth, while teammate Verstappen kicks up a cloud of dirt as he runs wide in T12, the Dutchman doing well not to lose the car completely. As he arrives back in the pits the grass on the front wing resembles flo-vis.

Just after half-time, it's: Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Kvyat.

In the Mercedes garage, Ross Brawn is in conversation with Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff. All three are smiling... however that might change if the Briton has his way in terms of levelling the playing field. Indeed, we hear talk - shock horror - of success ballast.

A moment for Bottas who kicks up a cloud of dirt but appears to be slightly more in control than Verstappen earlier.

Drivers are now looking ahead to Sunday, long runs on high fuel. Hamilton and Bottas on ultras and Vettel on supers.

"Ultrasoft (and specifically Hamilton) the way to go," says Pirelli. "The top time is just 0.1s off the all-time Melbourne lap record."

Bottas completes 16 laps on his ultras and Hamilton 15, both around 0.8s quicker than Vettel who has done 11 laps on his softs.

Magnussen is back on track following his earlier issues, though we will not be seeing Massa again. Verstappen also hasn't been seen since his off.

"Oversteer all the time," complains Sainz, the Spaniard currently seventh, 1.464s off the pace.

Magnussen is back in the Haas garage, his team confirming that the "water issue" hasn't been resolved.

Kvyat complains that his "front right is looking ugly". Despite that, the Russian has completed the most laps (30). Hamilton, Bottas and Ocon are all on 28, and Vettel, Grosjean and Hulkenberg on 27.

The yellows are waved when a bollard is clouted and left on track near the pit lane entrance.

Ericsson is off and stuck in the kitty litter at T6. The VSC is deployed.

Replay shows he lost the rear of the car.

With less than a minute remaining the track is declared clear and the VSC withdrawn.

The session ends, with Hamilton quickest (again!!), ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Sainz, Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Kvyat.

Perez, Alonso, Ocon, Massa, Ericsson, Stroll, Vandoorne, Wehrlein, Magnussen and Palmer.

So, and we cannot stress this enough, this is just practice the real thing is tomorrow, nonetheless, Lewis Hamilton is 0.547s quicker than his nearest rival. Then again, that rival is Sebastian Vettel.

Whether he still believes Ferrari is bluffing remains to be seen, but Mercedes has every reason to feel confident at this stage.

Disappointing afternoons for Magnussen, Palmer and Massa, while Ericsson appears to only have himself to blame.

Then again, as Scarlet O'Hara said: "Tomorrow is another day".

Check out our Friday gallery from Melbourne, here.

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1. Posted by LukeP, 24/03/2017 10:01

"Was expecting quicker times than this - last year's pole time was 1:23.837 - they still holding back do you think?"

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