Lewis Hamilton fastest from Max Verstappen in Australian Grand Prix practice

The Mercedes-GP driver starts bid for world title No 5 in promising fashion

epa06622376 British driver Lewis Hamilton of team Mercedes takes turn 8 during the first practice session for the 2018 Formula One Grand Prix of Australia at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, 23 March 2018.  EPA/JOE CASTRO AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

World champion Lewis Hamilton started his bid for a fifth drivers' championship in ominous fashion by topping the time sheets in both practice sessions for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes-GP driver set a fastest time of 1 minute, 23.931 seconds around Melbourne's Albert Park to set himself as the favourite to take pole position in Saturday's qualifying session.


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The Briton has taken pole the past four years in Melbourne, but fears of Mercedes domination after pre-season testing were relaxed a little by the strong pace of the Red Bull Racing car of Max Verstappen, who was only a tenth off a second off Hamilton on 1.24.058.

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas was third fastest, with the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel fourth and fifth quickest, ahead of the Haas of Romain Grosjean.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo was only seventh quickest in the second Red Bull, while the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne belied a trouble winter's testing by being eighth and 10th fastest.

Qualifying starts at 10am UAE on Saturday with the race beginning at 9.10am on Sunday.