World champion Hamilton fastest in 1st practice at Aussie GP

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his garage during the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, March 15. The first race of the year is Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his garage during the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, March 15. The first race of the year is Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — Five-time and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton has posted the fastest time in the season-opening Formula One practice session at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver’s fastest lap of 1 minute, 23.599 seconds on Friday was 0.038 faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who is aiming for a third consecutive victory at the Australian GP.

Vettel’s new teammate Charles Leclerc was 0.074 back in third place, ahead of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.

The pair finished first and second in the drivers’ championship last season, with Hamilton dominating the second half of the season and finishing with 11 victories from 21 GP events.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas posted the first time of the season , completing an early lap of the Albert Park circuit in 1:26.454. He improved his pace to 1:23.866 to finish the session with the fifth-fastest time.

The first practice was held in cool, clear conditions with the temperature reaching 21 Celsius (70 Fahrenheit). Officials were expecting slightly warmer weather for the second practice session later Friday, and for qualifying on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s race.

The session was suspended for four minutes after Alexander Albon spun at Turn 2 and lost the forward wing on his Toro Rosso.