Lewis Hamilton fastest in second practice but Red Bull at his heels


MELBOURNE, March 23: Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets for Mercedes in both practice sessions at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday but Red Bull`s Max Verstappen showed enough pace to give the Silver Arrows pause for thought.
After lapping Albert Park in one minute 24.026 seconds to dominate the first practice of the new season, Hamilton improved the mark slightly to 1:23.931 in the second session on a balmy autumn day.
Red Bull`s Dutch wunderkind Verstappen was snapping at his heels, however, finishing only 0.127 seconds adrift of the four-times champion after the second session. Raising hopes of a contest for Mercedes, who have swept the drivers` and constructors` titles for the past four years, there was less than three-tenths of a second separating the champions from the Red Bull and Ferrari cars.
Verstappen sandwiched himself between the Mercedes drivers, with Hamilton`s team mate Valtteri Bottas third quickest despite taking a couple of slides off the track. “That`s what I call a positive start to the season,” Verstappen tweeted. “The car handled well and I`m happy with today.”Fourth in FP2, Kimi Raikkonen showed Ferrari may also be in the hunt for Sunday`s race but he will have to face the stewards after allegedly impeding fellow Finn Bottas, who nearly rammed into his rear and ended up in the gravel.
It was a tougher day for Raikkonen`s four-times champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, who was more than a half-second off the pace in FP2 in fifth position. But he downplayed the subdued dry run. (Agencies)