Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton off to a flyer in Melbourne

18 Mar 2016 03:23

Lewis Hamilton began the defence of his Formula One championship by topping the timesheets in Melbourne on Friday.

The 31-year-old Briton finished nearly half-a-second clear of Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat during a session which was plagued by bad weather.

The Albert Park paddock bathed in sunshine as the drivers conducted their media duties on Thursday, but fast-forward 24 hours and they were greeted by an altogether different prospect.

Intermittent rain and strong winds played havoc with Hamilton completing only 14 laps during the 90-minute session. Indeed Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, expected to be among Hamilton's main rivals for the title this term, did not bother to post a competitive time.

While the wet stuff eased as the session progressed, it returned during the latter stages with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen running wide at Turn 13 before Daniel Ricciardo beached his Red Bull in the gravel at Turn 14.

The home favourite, who finished third in the order more than one second adrift of Hamilton's best time, was subsequently forced to hitch a lift back to the paddock.

With such limited running, the opening times of the new season can be seen as largely irrelevant. Force India's Nico Hulkenberg was fourth in the order with Max Verstappen fifth for Toro Rosso and Nico Robserg in sixth place.

McLaren's Jenson Button posted the eighth best time with Jolyon Palmer, the Briton's compatriot making his debut for Renault, completing 12 laps, and was 14th.

The drivers will hope to gain greater running in Friday's next practice session which gets under way at 16:30 local time. Rain is currently forecast for Saturday's qualifying session, but the race is expected to be dry.