ALL GUNS BLAZING: Lewis Hamilton is quickest in the first two practice sessions for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic
Melbourne - Lewis Hamilton sizzled in the opening practice sessions at the 2017 Australian Grand Prix as he sent an ominous message to his rivals for the new Formula 1 season on Friday.
The triple world champion bossed the field in the afternoon run to hold a half-second gap over Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel and his new Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton followed up his field-leading fastest lap of 1min24.220 in the first session with a blistering 1min23.620 around Albert Park in the late afternoon.
Read: As it happened - Second free practice
It was around one-tenth of a second off Vettel's record lap in Melbourne of 1min23.529, posted for Red Bull in qualifying ahead of his 2011 race victory.
Ferrari were expected to press Hamilton and the Mercedes team after superior times in pre-season testing, but on the evidence of the opening two sessions Hamilton again looked the driver to beat in Sunday's race.
Hamilton's time was more than three seconds faster than his best lap in last year's corresponding free practice in Melbourne.
Bottas slotted smoothly into the Mercedes team environment with a best lap of 1:24.176.
Ferrari improved on their opening practice with Vettel unleashing the second best lap time in FP2 with 1:24.167 while team mate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth with 1:24.525.
The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were over a second behind Hamilton and half-a-second off Vettel's Ferrari.
Team boss Christian Horner said: "Daniel's not quite got the balance that he wants. I think a couple of changes we've made on the car over lunch he's not liked so we're going back on them now."
"Hopefully we can get a sensible long run-in. You can see Lewis has probably got four or five-tenths on the field but after that it could be pretty tight. We know Ferrari have had a good winter but we're hopeful we can close that overnight. We'll get a better indication tomorrow but we've got some work to do tonight."
The second session was stopped after a big crash for Renault's Jolyon Palmer, who lost the rear of his car on the last corner and spun into the barriers.
"I'm fine," Palmer told his team over the radio. The shunt damaged the car's rear suspension, while the rear wing was detached.
Palmer missed the remainder of the session, in a blow to his preparations for the weekend race.
Brazilian Felipe Massa stopped his Williams car at Turn 11 after reporting he could not engage gears, and walked back to the team garage. The troubled McLaren team had no on-track breakdowns on the opening day with Fernando Alonso finishing in a respectable 12th place.
2017 Australian Grand Prix: Practice times on Friday
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1min23.620
2. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1min24.167
3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes 1min24.176
4. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1min24.525
5. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull 1min24.650
6. Max Verstappen (NED) Red Bull 1min25.013
7. Carlos Sainz (ESP) Toro Rosso 1min25.084
8. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas 1min25.436
9. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault 1min25.478
10. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Toro Rosso 1min25.493
11. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1min25.591
12. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren 1min26.000
13. Esteban Ocon (FRA) Force India 1min26.145
14. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1min26.331
15. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber 1min26.498
16. Lance Stroll (CAN) Williams 1min26.525
17. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren 1min26.608
18. Pascal Wehrlein (GER) Sauber 1min26.919
19. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas 1min27.279
20. Jolyon Palmer (GBR) Renault 1min27.549
1. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1min24.220
2. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes 1min24.803
3. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull 1min24.886
4. Max Verstappen (NED) Red Bull 1min25.246
5. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1min25.372
6. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1min25.464
7. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams 1min26.142
8. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas 1min26.168
9. Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault 1min26.183
10. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India 1min26.276
11. Carlos Sainz (ESP) Toro Rosso 1min26.450
12. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Toro Rosso 1min26.514
13. Lance Stroll (CAN) Williams 1min26.734
14. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren 1min27.116
15. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber 1min27.348
16. Esteban Ocon (FRA) Force India 1min27.656
17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas 1min27.667
18. Pascal Wehrlein (GER) Sauber 1min28.539
19. Jolyon Palmer (GBR) Renault 1min28.585
20. Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren 1min28.695