Horner: Red Bull still way off competing with Mercedes and Ferrari

2019 Australian GP

Horner: Red Bull still way off competing with Mercedes and Ferrari

The Briton was eight-tenths clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen in third, while Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was only fifth in a low-profile practice for the Scuderia which saw Charles Leclerc more than a second down in ninth.

Mercedes kicked off F1 2019 in control around Albert Park in the first free practice sessions for the Australian Grand Prix, with Red Bull its closest challenger.

Mercedes and Haas have an unchanged driver line-up with World Champion Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas aiming high in 2019, and Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean hoping to build on a successful debut season for the Haas F1 team.

Hulkenberg's time signified a much more competitive showing for Renault than in FP1, with Daniel Ricciardo less than 0.1s further back on a 1m23.644s. For me, it's about developing the understanding of the auto and we've made a good start on that today.

He added: "The auto feels like it's in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is positive coming to a different track".

"I think we didn't really get into the groove and into the rhythm and that's quite important around here".

"We didn't have a ideal start for winter testing, so there are a lot of things to be checked".

Don't forget, in recent years Ferrari has made a habit of setting the fastest time in pre-season testing, only for Mercedes drivers to claim the world title.

But four-times champion Vettel painted a gloomier picture, saying his vehicle was not behaving like it had during testing.

"We didn't bring a lot of new parts to the vehicle, but we were able to optimise the package that we have".

"Judging from the performance in Barcelona, it looks like we will have a proper fight on our hands", Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said to BBC. And with a salary this year mooted at $49 million he's got everything to grin about - Formula One has announced a welcome change to its points scoring system awarding a point to the driver who sets the fastest race lap, something it did in the early years from 1950 to 1959.

Vettel later bolted on softs and put in a lap of 1m23.473s to go fifth fastest, subsequently describing the vehicle as "still a bit wobbly" over the radio.

Alex Albon was 17th, one place behind the second Racing Point of Sergio Perez, and followed up his FP1 crash with a run through the gravel mid-season then a similar spin to Giovinazzi's late on.

"It has been alright".

"It's not doing exactly what I like here and there so that's why I'm lacking confidence".

The other rookie, British-born Thai Alexander Albon, had a hard first day. He slid onto the gravel again in session two and skidded onto the grass.

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