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F1 Raceweek: He may not like it, but Lewis Hamilton is clear favourite for Australian GP

Lewis Hamilton is the man to beat at the Australian Grand Prix after a dominant showing in Friday practice.

lewishamilton - CROPPED
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has spent much of the build-up to the opening race of the new Formula One season explaining why he is not the favourite to reclaim the drivers' championship.

But if his showing in Friday practice is anything to go by, he is a step ahead of his closest rivals at the Australian Grand Prix and looks to be the man to beat this weekend.

In FP2, the three-time world champion was more than half a second quicker than Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel - the man onto whom Hamilton has attempted to deflect expectations - having held a similar advantage over new team-mate Valtteri Bottas after the first session.

Promising early signs, then, for Hamilton's hopes of reclaiming the title in the absence of reigning champion and former team-mate Nico Rosberg, who announced his shock retirement at the end of last season.

But Ferrari demonstrated good pace in pre-season testing and will hope to pose a greater challenge to Mercedes following a winless 2016.

With the raft of new regulations coming into force for the new season, the early races present the Scuderia with the best chance of pouncing on any teething problems for the defending constructor kings.

 

WHAT WE LEARNED FROM PRACTICE

Hamilton (1:23.620) bettered his 2016 pole time in FP2, having switched from soft to ultrasoft tyres, while there was little to choose between Vettel (+0.547secs) and Bottas (+0.556secs), who were second and third fastest respectively.

Kimi Raikkonen was the only other driver to get within a second of Hamilton in the other Ferrari, while the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have work to do - the Dutchman took the scenic route at turn 12 at one point as he crossed the grass and gravel.

Jolyon Palmer put his Renault into a wall to bring out the red flags, but new colleague Nico Hulkenberg finished an encouraging ninth fastest in both sessions.

Felipe Massa's second session was curtailed by gear selection problems with his Williams, while Kevin Magnussen's Haas also experienced technical issues.

Fernando Alonso put his McLaren in 12th, allaying some fears over the Honda engine's reliability, but the pink Force Indias look like they may have lost ground against their midfield rivals during the close season.

 

LAST FIVE WINNERS

2016: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2015: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2013: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
2012: Jenson Button (McLaren)

 

WEATHER FORECAST

Sunday promises to be warm but overcast in Melbourne, with minimal chance of rain and the possibility of some sunshine during the race itself.

The more interesting outlook is for qualifying on Saturday, with thundery showers forecast from around 4pm local time - an hour before Q1 gets under way.

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