Hamilton sets fastest time in practice

• Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in second place
• Red Bull boost as Sebastian Vettel comes fourth

It was the start new season and a totally new look to Formula One in Australia but it was a typically mercurial day for Lewis Hamilton.

In the first practice session with the redesigned, smaller-engined cars, Hamilton lasted just one lap before his Mercedes came to a stop, shut down because of a sensor calibration problem. Then he was stopped by a security official from entering the paddock because he had forgotten his pass.

But in the second, afternoon session he returned to finish top of the timesheets, pushing his team-mate Nico Rosberg into second place using soft tyres. "I felt very comfortable out there. I felt I had a good understanding of what was going on," he said.

"While it was disappointing to not get any track time this morning, these little hiccups are going to happen with the new cars and we'll have to get used to that.

"It felt like I was on the back foot from there, but then we got up to pace quite quickly in P2 and found the balance relatively fast.

"I feel quite comfortable in the car, so overall it's a positive start, but we need to look at the data now and understand where we are.

"We got a nice foundation for the weekend in the second session so hopefully we can build on that in P3 and then see where we are in qualifying."

He finished one tenth of a second ahead of Rosberg in a reflection of what most people feel the start of the season will be like, with Mercedes exploiting their extra running in testing in Spain and Bahrain.

The surprise of the day was the performance of Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel was fourth and an impressive Daniel Ricciardo sixth. It was not their one-lap pace that impressed as much as the reliability they showed in their longer runs.

At this rate of progress the team from Milton Keynes, who had a miserable testing time, will be right up there slugging it out with Mercedes.

"In a way it's a relief, the fact that we were running, we didn't have any problems, the balance was good and the performance looked all right," Vettel said.

"In the end Friday times are not worth a lot, but it's better to be close to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I'm very happy with that.

"We will do what we can to prepare for Saturday and Sunday, but let's see where we are then - the most important thing is we finish."

The Red Bulls were split by the McLaren of Jenson Button, whose fifth place was four ahead of his team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

It was a surprisingly comfortable day for most teams, although the losers were clearly Lotus and Caterham, who failed to see much action and ran into trouble when they did manage to get out on the track.

In the morning session, Fernando Alonso finished top inthe Ferrari, ahead of Button, and they were followed by the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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