Leclerc sets the pace in Melbourne as Ferrari continue to impress

Mercedes struggle again during practice for Australian Grand Prix on Friday

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Ferrari's promising start to the Formula One season continued on Friday as they dominated free practice at the Australian Grand Prix. However, there was more bad news for struggling Mercedes at a revamped Albert Park.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets with a lap of one minute, 18.978 in second free practice after being second to team-mate Carlos Sainz in the first.

However, Red Bull showed they will be competitive this weekend with world champion Max Verstappen splitting the Ferraris in the second session, 0.245 seconds behind Leclerc.

There were some concerns for Ferrari, with both Leclerc and Sainz wrestling with their cars bouncing, or 'porpoising', down the new run of shallow corners where drivers hit high speed heading into turns nine and 10 at Albert Park.

That will be a major issue for Mercedes, with their new-look W13 car battling this season following major aerodynamic rule changes.

After disappointing results in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, they remained well off the pace on Friday with George Russell 11th quickest in the second session, more than 1.2 seconds adrift of Leclerc. Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was 13th fastest and had a skid into gravel.

It is early days in the season, but a title tussle between Leclerc and Verstappen is forming nicely.

"A bit of a harder Friday for me. FP1 was a bit tricky, I improved quite a bit in FP2, but there is still quite a bit of work to do," said Leclerc, 24, who won the season-opening race in Bahrain.

"I don't think anybody really put the [perfect] lap together today. We need to keep focusing on ourselves. Tomorrow is qualifying and hopefully we have a good day. We need to do another step forward, and let's push."

Verstappen, who won in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, struggled with handling early on, saying on the team radio: "I'm still having the same issues, mate, I can't turn the car" after straightlining into the Turn 10 chicane.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was facing potential punishment after riding a moped on the track in violation of the rules.

The four-time world champion jumped on a scooter to make his way back to the paddock after abandoning his broken down Aston Martin, which had smoke coming out of the rear, in the first practice session at Albert Park.

The German, 34, was seen casually driving around the track, smiling and waving to fans, after the other cars had returned to the pits. At one point he took his hands off the handlebars.

"This is the most iconic end to a practice session we can remember," Formula One's official Twitter account posted.

But governing body the FIA took a dim view and ordered him to report to the stewards for "unauthorised use of a scooter on the track", which could reportedly result in a fine.

It was not the start he wanted after missing the opening two races of the season with Covid-19.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 9:21 AM