Daniel Ricciardo suffers 'painful' blow in first practice session

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has again set the Formula One benchmark by topping practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

The Mercedes star clocked one minute 23.59 seconds in the opening 90-minute session that featured a red flag, just 0.03 of a second ahead of four-time world champ Sebastian Vettel, with his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc third fastest.

Australian star Daniel Ricciardo made an underwhelming Renault debut, sitting in 17th spot in the 20-strong field ahead of Friday’s final practice session from 1600 AEDT.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, Hamilton’s partner Valtteri Bottas fifth and Kimi Raikkonen sixth in his Alfa Romeo.

‘It’s going to be painful’

Sky Sports commentator Paul di Resta said it would be ‘painful’ for Ricciardo to accept that his Renault will struggle to match it with the big guns.

“He is going to have to have re-set this season,” Sky Sports commentator David Croft said.

“Whereby in the past at Red Bull he could think, ‘If I put in a good lap, I might be in the front row or I might be in the top five’. That’s not necessarily going to happen if at all this season.

Di Resta responded: “It’s going to be painful.

“He’s got to stop comparing himself to Verstappen this year.”

Daniel Ricciardo. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Hamilton’s stunning early statement

The 34-year-old Hamilton is gunning for his sixth world title this year, and third in a row, to close in on Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven.

Much had been made of his insistence after pre-season testing in Barcelona that Ferrari were up to half a second faster, but he quickly showed that Mercedes, as expected, are well and truly in the hunt.

On medium compound tyres, the Briton, who has triumphed twice in Melbourne, in 2008 and 2015, among his 73 wins in 229 Grand Prix, clocked his fastest time with 30 minutes left of the 90 minute session.

It was relatively incident-free practice, which was red flagged briefly when Toro Rosso new boy Alexander Albon lost his front wing in a spin and crash at turn 2.

“Come slowly. You have no front wing, come very slowly,” his team advised him on the driver radio.

Bottas also spun late in the session, then nearly hit the wall as he turned the car around.

Meanwhile, Renault’s Niko Hulkenberg missed most of the session after an electronic error, but managed to squeeze in 11 late laps.

It was a frustrating morning for Poland’s Robert Kubica, in his first Formula One drive since his right arm was partially severed in a horror rallying accident eight years ago.

He managed 25 laps with a fastest time of just 1:27.914 for Williams, which finished bottom of the constructors championship last year.

with agencies