Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz has set the pace in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix, setting a lap time over half a second quicker than anyone else.
With the Albert Park venue going through extensive modifications before the 2022 race, the drivers spent most of the first practice session of the weekend adjusting to the new demands of the circuit, as well as enjoying the sunshine that bathed Melbourne throughout the one hour of track time.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was the first of the front-runners to fit the Soft (C5) tyre which, for this weekend, is two full compounds softer than the Medium (C3).
Ramping up his pace on the Softs through a series of runs, Verstappen brought his time down to a 1:20.6 to lead the way just after the halfway point of the session.
The two Ferrari drivers, having spent the first 30 minutes on the Hard (C2) tyre, swapped to the Soft and immediately took over at the front, with Sainz setting a 1:20.325 to pip Charles Leclerc by 0.052s, and Verstappen in third and three-tenths of a second behind.
Sainz lowered the benchmark again late in the hour, becoming the only driver to dip under the 1:20-minute mark as he set a 1:19.806 to finish half a second clear of Leclerc.
Both Ferrari and Red Bull spent time during the session evaluating their aerodynamic performance, with Ferrari fitting extra sensors to Sainz's front wing, while Sergio Perez appeared to be carrying out comparison work between different specification front wings.
The Mexican driver was another late improver, putting in a 1:20.399 to edge out Verstappen and take third place away from his teammate.
Result Free practice 1 - Australian
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Two red flag stoppages
There were two separate stoppages during the 60-minute session, with the first coming after 20 minutes.
Perez lost a chunk of Red Bull as he went through the final corner, with the debris coming to rest right on the racing line.
With drivers having to take avoiding action to avoid hitting the chunk of carbon fibre, the session was briefly stopped to allow for its safe retrieval.
With 15 minutes left in the session, Sebastian Vettel encountered an engine issue on his Aston Martin and was forced to pull over and stop with smoke billowing from the air intake.
The German driver was classified in 12th, in his first official session of the year after missing the first two Grands Prix due to testing positive for COVID-19.
McLaren joining the fight
Slotting in behind the leading Ferraris and Red Bulls, McLaren's Lando Norris caught the eye by placing fifth and a second off the pace set by Sainz on the Softs.
This was enough to keep Norris just clear of Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, while home hero Daniel Ricciardo placed eighth to offer McLaren fans some hope after a poor first two races of the season.
Fernando Alonso finished ninth in the other Alpine, with Valtteri Bottas rounding out the top 10 for Alfa Romeo.
Further back, Kevin Magnussen placed 18th after missing his Friday morning duties – the Danish driver was unwell overnight and was granted dispensation by the FIA to rest until he was needed by his team.
Magnussen's teammate, Mick Schumacher, was 20th, with the two Haas drivers joining the two Williams drivers at the back.
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