SETTING THE PACE: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton sets the pace during the first practice session for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. AP/Andrew Brownbill
Australia - A new era for Formula 1 cars got under way without much change in the status quo, with Lewis Hamilton posting the fastest time in his Mercedes in the first practice session of the opening Grand Prix weekend of the season.
Hamilton's quickest lap of 1min24.220 seconds on Friday was nearly six-tenths of a second — 0.0583 seconds — faster than new Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas.
The two Mercedes cars were followed by the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo, 0.666 behind, and Max Verstapen in third and fourth and the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen in fifth and Sebastian Vettel, who only did 10 laps and was 1.244 off the pace.
The new regulations for 2017 allowed for wider tires with more grip and durability, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce.
The first practice session supported expectations that the cars will be significantly quicker this year.
Williams rookie Lance Stroll set the first time of the season, the 18-year-old Canadian momentarily on top of the time sheets after his first flying lap in an F1 Grand Prix event before ending the first session in 13th.
His team mate Felipe Massa, here after an aborted retirement, was seventh quickest and was 1.922 behind Hamilton.
Sergio Perez launched the new pink livery for Force India, and posted the 10th fastest time, 2.056 off the pace.
McLaren had a poor session, with former world champion Fernando Alonso almost three seconds back in 14th place and Stoffel Vandoorne slowest of all 20 cars.
The second practice session was set for later Friday, with a third practice Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon for Sunday's GP.
Hamilton, who won back-to-back world championships in 2014 and '15 and narrowly lost to now retired team mate Nico Rosberg last season, completed 22 laps and tested three tires, the soft, super-soft and ultra-soft Pirellis.