The 67th edition of Formula 1 kicked off in Melbourne under changeable conditions in both practice sessions, after rain overnight and during the session forced drivers to mostly run on Intermediates.
But for those who managed to switch to the Soft tyre at the right time, they managed to set the quickest laps of the day. That included defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who was quickest in the first practice session on a 1:29.752 after picking his moments carefully along with the two Red Bull drivers; Kvyat and Ricciardo.
They set their laps within the last 20 minutes, trading the top spot at the timesheet before rain started to come down sideways at the back of the circuit, just as Sebastien Vettel and Nico Rosberg emerged from the pits. Whilst Rosberg got a lap in earlier to go sixth fastest, Vettel was unable to set a time after coming out onto the circuit at the wrong moments successively.
The first cross over occurred in the early stages of the session, when Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was the first to switch to the Soft tyre. He managed half a lap before spinning on the exit of turn 7 on the still-damp surface. Meanwhile teammate Carlos Sainz didn’t make an appearance until 30 minutes into the session, after a fuel pressure problem stopped him from putting in laps in the opening parts.
The first sign of changeable conditions appeared five minutes later, at which stage it was Ricciardo fastest from Kvyat and Alonso – who was briefly fastest for McLaren. They have brought a to of updates over from Barcelona this weekend, namely revisions which make it more of a 2016 car.
Thankfully for them, both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso clocked up decent milage without problems in Practice, both ending up 7th and 8th fastest having set lap times on the Soft tyre.
The only real drama in the session came when Daniel Ricciardo beached his Red Bull coming through turns 11 and 12 into the gravel, after staying out on slicks in the very slippery conditions. A moment for Raikkonen at turn 14 also confirmed how slippery it was for the drivers, who were gingerly making it back to the pits as the chequered flag came out.
Practice 2 saw a more progressive change from wet to dry, with it looking pretty sodden when the session started. Teams didn’t run until 20 minutes into the session, by which point they still had to run on Intermediate tyres.
Fastest man was Lewis Hamilton again on a 1:38.841 followed by Hulkenberg and Raikkonen. This is after teammate Nico Rosberg crashed 30 minutes into the session at turn 8, damaging his new front wing which Mercedes now only have one spare of. He also punctured a left rear Intermediate tyre, which prompted the team to tell him to stop out on track and end his running for the session prematurely.
It was also the first time we saw the Virtual Safety Car system work during a practice session, as marshals recovered the stricken Mercedes and debris it scatted across the track.
At this stage it was Alonso quickest from Sainz and Ricciardo, before Raikkonen went even faster on a 1:39.486. Later on Hamilton posted his fastest lap time, with Hulkenberg showing up in second in the closing stages of the session.
Both Williams drivers didn’t get out until 7 minutes left in the session, although they didn’t set any lap times – likely meaning that they didn’t think they could learn a lot from the track in those conditions. Both Renault drivers also didn’t get a lap in, despite running some milage in bits of the session.
The Haas drivers meanwhile had a more prominent showing in Practice 2 after spending most of the morning session in the garage. Their drivers were 11th and 13th fastest, although their car did look pretty good judging from the onboard shots.