Lewis Hamilton got the edge once again over his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in practice for the first Grand Prix of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Australia. Hamilton, beginning his attempt to win a third consecutive world championship and fourth overall, set the fastest time in Friday’s second practice session in Melbourne, while Rosberg spun off and crashed in the wet conditions in Melbourne.
Hamilton was able to complete just seven laps in the rain, but, as he did in the first session of the day, set the fastest time, 0.467 seconds quicker than Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
“That was a good day,” Hamilton said afterward. “The car performed well and although we didn’t get a huge number of laps in, they were still quite constructive sessions. I was lucky to get a couple of dry laps to get a tiny feeling for what the balance is like around here, which was down to some good work from the team to time my runs right. Generally, though, I’m just excited to be here and to get back in the car.”
It wasn’t nearly so good for Rosberg, who has been engaged in an increasingly fractious rival with his teammate over the past two years but last season conceded the title with three races still remaining. Rosberg lost control of his Mercedes in the tricky conditions and ended up breaking off his front wing.
“That wasn’t a good start to the weekend for me,” Rosberg said. “It was very wet out there, which made it tricky. It’s a shame that I lost the car in P2. I just applied a little too much throttle through Turn 7, spun round and touched the wall. My front wing was quite damaged, so unfortunately the boys will have some extra work to do tonight.”
Rosberg and Hamilton are expected to go head-to-head for pole position on Saturday, although there is plenty of uncertainty over what will transpire in the season’s first qualifying session. For one thing, it will see the debut of a new qualifying format in which the slowest driver will be eliminated every 90 seconds in the second half of each of the three sessions.
Added to that, is the lack of conclusions that could be drawn from Friday’s rain-affected practice. Kimi Raikkonen was third in the second session, but how much Ferrari have managed to close the gap to Mercedes over the winter remains to be seen.
“I don't think that the day was completely lost: it was good to get at least some laps and to feel the car, but in terms of preparation for the weekend and the race there was not too much to learn,” Raikkonen’s Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel said afterward.
There is also doubt about how much improvement McLaren have made. The eight-time constructors’ champions endured a painful season in 2015, but showed some positive signs on Friday, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button setting the sixth and seventh fastest times in the afternoon, respectively.
“I think we’re feeling quite happy after today,” Alonso said. “It’s nice to be back here in Melbourne: sometimes, when you come away from testing and go to a different circuit, you receive a pleasant surprise… or an unpleasant surprise. Well, today, we received a pleasant surprise.”
Australian Grand Prix schedule (all times EDT)
Qualifying: Saturday, 2 a.m.
Race: 1 a.m.
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra