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The 39-year-old Kimi Raikonen was sixth in his first start since leaving Ferrari for Alfa Romeo Racing, and the Renault pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were next.

Lewis Hamilton records the fastest lap time in the practice session of the Melbourne Grand Prix on Friday (Mar 15). For me, it's about developing the understanding of the vehicle and we've made a good start on that today. "I feel that I have the vehicle under me, that I had in testing, but it is not doing the same thing here and there and that is why I am lacking confidence". Both Ferrari and Mercedes will be giving it everything, and we'll get our first true indication of where exactly they stand.

Renault's Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were seventh and eighth, closely matched after the Australian had a tricky day with a number of delays, first due to a technical problem and then the need to adjust his seat to reduce discomfort in the auto. "There's plenty of things we can improve on, which is a positive, but it's absolutely not a bad start at all".

After winter testing, Hamilton said he thought Ferrari were a half-second quicker than Mercedes.

"We didn't bring a lot of new parts to the vehicle, but we were able to optimise the package that we have", he said.

Judging from the performance displayed during pre-season testing in Spain, it looks like we'll be treated with another season of close competition between top teams Mercedes-AMG and Ferrari. The forecast is for warmer conditions for Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.

Daniel Ricciardo
Lewis Hamilton predicts a tough battle in Australian GP

Meanwhile, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said Hamilton's activities outside of Formula One - skydiving and his fashion brand - were not a "negative distraction". Feels quite odd. Seems to be something wrong. "It was a bit of a time delay, but I could tell that everyone was getting a bit frustrated".

The German said afterwards it had been "a tricky day".

"I had this (feeling) a couple of times".

"We didn't really get into the groove and the rhythm and I hope tomorrow is a better day".

British-born Thai debutant Alexander Albon had a tough day, crashing his Toro Rosso to lose his front wing and cause a brief halt in the first session. He slid onto the gravel again in session two and skidded onto the grass.

FIA chief Jean Todt held a minute's silence to mark his passing in a press conference, with deputy race director Michael Masi fulfilling Whiting's duties in Melbourne.

Algeria: thousands protest against Bouteflika
The protests have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria's opaque but powerful security establishment. A number of protests have also been staged in Switzerland against the Algerian president since he arrived in the country.


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