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Hamilton leads the way in Australia

World champion Lewis Hamilton was once again the man in the spotlight in Albert Park

By Dan Paddock 


Formula 1 is back – and so is world champion Lewis Hamilton.


The British star set the pace on a rain-affected first day of practice for the 2016 season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.


Hamilton needed just a solitary timed lap of one minute, 38.841 seconds to go fastest in second practice, having already lapped fastest in the day’s opening session.


It was a trying day on the other side of the Mercedes garage for team-mate and last season's arch title rival Nico Rosberg.


The German spun his W07 at Turn 6 of the wet Albert Park circuit in practice two, spearing into the wall and damaging Mercedes’ new front wing.


Mercedes do have spares available, but Rosberg was left watching the remainder of practice from the team garage after he was informed to park his damaged car at the side of the track.


Hamilton ended the day 0.467s clear of nearest challenger, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who was 0.178s ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in third.


Red Bull’s Australian home favourite Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, from Toro Rosso racer Carlos Sainz Jr and the two McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.


Sebastian Vettel had arrived in Melbourne confident Ferrari could seriously challenge Mercedes in 2016 but he failed to set a time in the opening session. 


The four-time world champion did enough to finish eighth on the leaderboard in the afternoon, ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez and Russian Red Bull racer Daniil Kvyat who completed the top-10.


F1's newest team, American racers Haas F1, opted to limit their running because of the soggy weather and lack of spares but Esteban Gutierrez was 11th on the team's first full day of official running with team-mate Romain Grosjean 13th.


The Frenchman was sandwiched between the two Manor F1 rookies Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto - 12th and 14th respectively.


British rookie Jolyon Palmer, Renault team-mate Kevin Magnussen and the two Williams drivers - Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas - all failed to set a time in the afternoon, completing only late exploratory laps.


Hamilton’s best lap of 1m29s.725s in the morning session was the quickest time of the day, coming on the soft tyre in a brief break in the weather.


Watch highlights of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at 12:30 on Saturday 19th March on Channel 4.

Highlights of the race from 13:30 on Sunday 20th March.