Lewis Hamilton Tops First Practice Sessions For 2017 Australian Grand Prix

Hamilton starts the year by breaking the race lap record that was set in 2004 by Michael Schumacher.

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice
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The 2017 Formula 1 season has officially started! The cars took to the track in Australia at Melbourne's Albert Park on Friday for the weekend's first two practice session. Not long after the teams completed some installation laps, Williams driver, Lance Stroll turned in the first timed lap of the year. Using the red super-soft tires, he set a time of 1:33:308. Following him, Sauber's Marcus Ericsson pulled out a 1:33:035 on the harder yellow-banded soft tires. When Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton banged out his first hot lap, he reminded everyone that it was his team that won the last three titles. Hamilton clicked off a 1:26:478 on the super-softs.

After a short break, everyone started hitting the track again with about 41 minutes left in the session. One after another, the fastest laps were set. First, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo with a 1:24:886 on the super-soft tires. He was then bettered by new Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas with a 1:24:803, who was instantly bested by his team mate Lewis Hamilton's 1:24:220. Hamilton's time is just 0.095 seconds shy of the race lap record lap at Albert Park set by Michael Schumacher in 2004. Both Mercedes drivers set their times on the purple ultra-soft tires. Those times would stand for the rest of Practice One.

A few hours later, the second practice session proved to faster and a bit more action packed. Some drivers pushed the limits of their car a little too far. The first to mow the grass was Haas' Kevin Magnussen after a huge lock-up in turn one. Shortly after, Joylon Palmer recorded the first official crash and red flag of 2017. While accelerating out of the final corner, the rear stepped out, sending him backwards in to the tire wall, then spinning around causing the heavy front end damage as well. Joylon walked away with only his ego damaged. The mechanics at Renault will be pulling an all-nighter to have the car ready for Saturday's practice and qualifying.

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Renault's technicians take care of British driver Jolyon Palmer's car after he crashed during the second practice session of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 24, 2017.

As soon as the red flag was lifted, Massa's Williams got stuck in neutral and stopped on track. The local yellow cased by Massa was lifted just in time for Hamilton to blast through on his was to setting a staggering lap of 1:23:620. This time is 0.091 seconds slower that the all-time fastest lap at the circuit, set by Vettel in 2011. Considering this is only the second practice session, that record will undoubtedly be reset this weekend. Max Verstappen went for a ride over the curbs and grass as well. At first, it looked a lucky save. Once he brought the Red Bull back to the pits to have the copious amounts of grass removed from it, it was discovered that he also did substantial damage to the underside of the car; thus ending his day. Finally, with just minutes left in the second session, Sauber's Marcus Ericsson spun in to a gravel trap, causing a virtual safety car that would remain until time expired. 

Lewis Hamilton's fastest time held, with Vettel just 0.547 seconds behind him. Mercedes have put their foot down in defense of the title, but this was only Practice Two. If Ferrari or Red Bull have been holding anything back, they'll have to show their cards come Saturday's qualifying.  

Practice One Lap Times

1. Lewis Hamilton 1:24.220
2. Valtteri Bottas 1:24.803
3. Daniel Ricciardo 1:24.886
4. Max Verstappen 1:25.246
5. Kimi Raikkonen 1:25.372
6. Sebastian Vettel 1:25.464
7. Felipe Massa 1:26.142
8. Romain Grosjean 1:26.168
9. Nico Hulkenberg 1:26.183
10. Sergio Perez 1:26.276
11. Carlos Sainz 1:26.450
12. Daniil Kvyat 1:26.514
13. Lance Stroll 1:26.734
14. Fernando Alonso 1:27.116
15. Marcus Ericsson 1:27.348
16. Esteban Ocon 1:27.656
17. Kevin Magnussen 1:27.667
18. Pascal Wehrlein 1:28.539
19. Jolyon Palmer 1:28.585
20. Stoffel Vandoorne 1:28.695

Practice Two Lap Times

1. Lewis Hamilton 1:23.620
2. Sebastian Vettel 1:24.167
3. Valtteri Bottas 1:24.176
4. Kimi Raikkonen 1:24.525
5. Daniel Ricciardo 1:24.650
6. Max Verstappen 1:25.013
7. Carlos Sainz 1:25.084
8. Romain Grosjean 1:25.436
9. Nico Hulkenberg 1:25.478
10. Daniil Kvyat 1:25.493
11. Sergio Perez 1:25.591
12. Fernando Alonso 1:26.000
13. Esteban Ocon 1:26.145
14. Felipe Massa 1:26.331
15. Marcus Ericsson 1:26.498
16. Lance Stroll 1:26.525
17. Stoffel Vandoorne 1:26.608
18. Pascal Wehrlein 1:26.919
19. Kevin Magnussen 1:27.279
20. Jolyon Palmer 1:27.549