In a dramatic opening practice that was halted by a red flag twice due to on-track issues, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez were among the drivers to experience difficulties on the Albert Park circuit on Friday.
Verstappen, who said illness left him “physically limited” when finishing second behind teammate Sergio Perez in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, set the early standard in practice.
The two-time world champion, who posted a fastest lap time of 1 minute. 18:790 seconds, spun his Red Bull at the exit to turn four with just over five minutes left and ended his session.
Perez also ended up in the gravel midway through the session as teams experienced issues with their GPS systems, which prompted the first red flag.
The session ended prematurely when Williams’ driver Logan Sargeant lost power in his car with just under two minutes remaining of a chaotic opening at the circuit. A second practice session was scheduled later Friday, with qualifying set for Saturday ahead of Sunday's race.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Verstappen and Perez both reported they were not entirely pleased with how the RB19 felt on its first outing in Melbourne.
“Neither of them were absolutely happy with the balance of the car,” Horner said. “They both had . . . brake-related issues that took them a bit deep into a couple of corners. But it just shows that both of them are pushing and that they’re on the limit, which is which is what you want to see.”
In an encouraging sign for seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes driver recorded the second-fastest lap, with his time 0.433 seconds slower than Verstappen. His late surge edged Perez, who recorded a time of 1.19:293.
Attention is being focused on Verstappen and Perez in Melbourne given the speed advantage they hold on their rivals and also because of the competitive battle unfolding between the pair.
Dominant in the opening two races of the Formula One season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the first Melbourne session indicates Red Bull will be difficult to topple again this weekend.
Before the practice session, Perez said he felt that he had the full support of Red Bull to challenge his teammate for the championship.
“When you are in a fight for the championship, you’re going to have to take your A-game to every single race. You have to try everything you possibly can,” he said. “But at the same time, it will be very important that we both respect whatever we are told by the team. I can say now that I really feel part of the team, that I have my place, I’m well respected, and that’s something good to have as a driver.”
Fernando Alonso, who finished third on the podium behind the Red Bull pairing in the opening two races, was fourth fastest in the opening session. Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc, who won the 2022 Australian Grand Prix, and teammate Carlos Sainz were next quickest.
After some early technical issues, McLaren driver Lando Norris recorded the seventh fastest time, 0.746 seconds slower than the standard set by Verstappen. His teammate Oscar Piastri, driving in his home F1 race for the first time, was 12th fastest.
Meanwhile, organizing body FIA says it has completed a review into the bizarre circumstances which saw Alonso demoted to fourth position in Jeddah for a breach on the starting grid, only to reverse the decision soon after on appeal.
FIA clarified the wording of a rule related to “working on the car” and how it will be regulated and also widened the starting grid boxes for the Australian Grand Prix.