Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix preview

Hamilton feeling very positive after topping practice

F1: 2019 Australian Grand Prix Preview

There is a particular buzz about the Melbourne paddock. This year's campaign kicks off in Australia on Sunday and ahead of the race, Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Co came together to meet their adoring fans. Or at least it should be. In recent years, that has not been the case as Mercedes have been all-conquering.

Ferrari have tried to change the narrative but Mercedes have inked their name in the record books each time.

There are plenty of alluring storylines, from familiar faces in different overalls to youngsters stepping out into the spotlight and those, such as Poland's Robert Kubica with Williams, returning after fearing their Formula One careers were over.

In eight of the last 19 seasons, the victor of the opening Grand Prix has not gone on to become champion.

It was a positive day for those anticipating another season of close battles in the midfield, with just a single second separating all drivers bar the leading Mercedes pair and quartet anchored to the bottom of the timesheet. 'We've got the best team around us.

"The vehicle felt better than it did at testing", said Bottas. It's not doing exactly what I like here.

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But he added: "It's a tough weekend ahead of us".

Perhaps F1 would be wise, though, not to pin its hopes for 2019 exclusively on a straight duel between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, his erstwhile adversary at Ferrari.

Leclerc also had a spin late in the session after losing it on the exit kerb coming out of the Turn 4 left-hander.

1 - Ferrari driver Vettel is one win away from equalling Schumacher as the driver with the most wins (four) and most back-to-back victories (3 - 2000-02) at the Australian GP.

But Vettel, who is bidding for a third successive win at Albert Park, torpedoed the notion, insisting the vehicle simply felt different to the one tested in Barcelona, before rubbishing Mercedes' claims of an out-of-shape auto as "b*******".

"I had nine days pretty much of no distraction since (the Italian Grand Prix at) Monza and it was time for me to put everything into it", Ricciardo said.

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"The weather is fantastic, we've already got quite a big crowd".

Referring to his own team, which saw both drivers complaining of handling issues with their cars, Vettel said: "It was a tricky day for us and probably a tricky day for everyone".

Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas posted the first time of the season, completing an early lap of the Albert Park circuit in 1:26.454.

Similarly Max Verstappen was asked about all the claims made by Red Bull management about the work that has gone into the auto after the testing at Barcelona and their chances of being potentially faster than Mercedes and maybe on par with Ferrari.

"In the end we are racing for Ferrari and we will try to get Ferrari back to where we've been trying to get it back to for the past few years".

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