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Hamilton tops the time sheets as F1 season kicks off

Fri, 14 Mar 2014

LEWIS HAMILTON recovered from the misery of completing just half a lap on his opening run to move to the top of the timesheets on the first official day of the new Formula One season.

Less than five minutes into the year's first practice session at Melbourne's Albert Park, and on his maiden installation lap, Hamilton's Mercedes ground to a halt due to a sensor calibration problem that cut out the power unit.

That was it for Hamilton until the start of second free practice, when he more than made up for lost time and underlined his status as championship favourite in the wake of Mercedes' impressive form in pre-season testing.

The 29-year-old completed 37 laps - only three drivers managed more - and was quickest to boot with a lap of one minute 29.625secs.

That, however, was 3.7secs slower than the fastest lap in the equivalent sessions a year ago, such is the difference between the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units and the old 2.4-litre V8s.

Given the proliferation of problems encountered by all the teams in pre-season testing in the wake of sweeping regulation changes over the winter, the top five was not too far removed from the majority of practice sessions last season, with four champions included.

Hamilton had team-mate Nico Rosberg for company, the German 0.157secs adrift, followed by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and McLaren's Jenson Button.

Vettel completed a session-high 40 laps, a triumph of sorts given Red Bull were one of the teams worst affected by testing gremlins.

The reigning four-time champion sat out the opening 50 minutes of FP1 as his engineers changed the floor on his seemingly troublesome car, yet come the end of the day Vettel was 0.756secs adrift of Hamilton, with new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in close attendance in seventh, just 0.157secs back.

Surprisingly, Williams pairing Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were eighth and 12th respectively, despite their pre-season standing as second favourites for the constructors' crown.

Although the sessions were not as chaos-strewn as perhaps had been anticipated, there are two teams in serious trouble - Caterham and Lotus.

The two Renault customers managed a combined total of just 17 laps across the four cars. Hardest hit was Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi who completed a solitary installation lap in FP1, only to encounter a fuel system issue that kept his car in the garage for the entire day.

A Caterham spokesperson said: "We had to take the engine off Kamui's car to fix it so we can run tomorrow.

"Taking a power unit off the car is a complex job, taking much longer than the old V8s, hence there was no time to fix it to run in FP2

"Obviously it is not what we wanted, but we're working with Renault to come back fighting tomorrow."

Rookie team-mate Marcus Ericsson suffered electrical problems, with the Swede only managing one lap per session.

Lotus' Pastor Maldonado did not take part in FP2 after ending first practice with wisps of smoke floating from the cockpit of his car on only his second lap.

Team-mate Romain Grosjean at in the garage for the whole of FP1 and although he made it on track in FP2 for 12 laps, he ended it in the gravel after a brush with a wall.

Of those that did complete a time, Marussia's Max Chilton was slowest, five seconds down on Hamilton, although he at least ran for 29 laps after only completing four in FP1.

By Ian Parkes, Press Association