MELBOURNE, Australia – Lewis Hamilton ruled the opening day of the Formula One season on Friday by pacing practice for the Australian Grand Prix at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

Hamilton was fastest in both practice sessions Friday, with his fastest overall lap coming during the afternoon session at 1:22.600 aboard his Mercedes.

“It’s really nice to get back out on track. The weather is fantastic, we’ve already got quite a big crowd,” said Hamilton, whose best lap Friday was two tenths of a second better than his pole lap in Melbourne last year. “I have a positive buzz from driving the car today – this is what I love doing. The car feels like it’s in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is positive coming to a different track. We got through our programme really well, there were no issues on track. There’s plenty of stuff that we can improve on, but this was not a bad start. What we have to do now is really study and analyse everything, as we always do on a Friday night. But the fact is we’ve got two cars that continue to go around, none of us made a mistake and we kept the cars in one piece – that counts for a lot.”

Hamilton was followed on the timesheets by his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was only .048 of a second off the reigning Formula One champion’s pace during the second practice.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was nearly a full second off the pace set by Hamilton, which left him in a distant third on the timesheets at 1:23.400. His Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly ended the day fourth fastest, followed by the Ferrari entry of Sebastian Vettel in fifth.

Kimi Raikkonen, in his first day with the Alfa Romeo squad, was sixth fastest. He was followed by the Renault pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Haas driver Romain Grosjean.