Lewis Hamilton struggles in Australian GP practice as Leclerc sets pace | Formula One

Lewis Hamilton finished only 13th in second practice for the Australian Grand Prix as championship leader Charles Leclerc set the fastest time.

A fortnight on from the controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Formula One is back at Melbourne’s Albert Park for the first time since the 2020 race was cancelled because of the pandemic. And Hamilton, who finished a lowly 10th in Jeddah, was again off the pace in his under-performing Mercedes.

The seven-time world champion demanded more power and greater grip after his disappointing showing at the previous round. But Mercedes arrived in Australia without any major upgrades as they continue to battle the new regulations.

Hamilton finished a distant 1.5sec behind Leclerc, with world champion Max Verstappen second, 0.245sec adrift, and Carlos Sainz third in the other Ferrari. Neither Mercedes drivers made it into the top 10 on Friday afternoon after Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished 11th, 1.2sec back. Fernando Alonso, who made his debut here 21 years ago, was fourth for Alpine, one spot ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Hamilton finished second to former teammate Valterri Bottas in the last race staged here back in 2019. But the circuit has undergone a number of changes since in order to spice up what can be a largely uneventful race. The track has been resurfaced and widened at Turns 1, 6 and the penultimate corner, while the chicane has been removed at Turns 9 and 10 to provide the drivers with a high-speed drag down to Turn 11; delivering greater overtaking opportunities.

Sebastian Vettel was sidelined for the races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia after testing positive for Covid-19. The four-time world champion is back in action this weekend, but his first outing ended prematurely following an engine failure.

Charles Leclerc performed well in second practice in his Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Charles Leclerc performed well in second practice in his Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Photograph: Joel Carrett/EPA

Vettel came to a halt with smoke billowing out of his Aston Martin. He rode a moped back to this pits, waving to the crowd – an incident which is being investigated by the stewards. He then failed to make it out for the concluding action of the day after his team could not change his faulty power unit in time.

Vettel’s team-mate Lance Stroll finished 14th on a day which is unlikely to improve the mood in the Aston Martin camp following their lacklustre start to the new season. Only they and Williams are without a point so far.

British driver Lando Norris was eighth for McLaren, two places ahead of teammate and home favourite Daniel Ricciardo.

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