Fri: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull

Fri: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull

Lewis Hamilton has laid down a marker for the Formula 1 season, lapping more than half a second quicker than his nearest challenger in the second practice of the day for the Australian Grand Prix.

The 32-year-old Englishman, who won two of his three titles in a Mercedes that has dominated the sport for the past three years, believes new regulations have levelled the playing field and that he will now have to vie with Ferrari and Red Bull for the championship. In the same session in 2016, the fastest time was a 1:29.725, albeit in wet-dry conditions, while Hamilton's pole position time was only a fraction quicker at 1:23.837.

"I'm super happy to be back in the auto - particularly after a first day like that".

A thrilled Hamilton said the day was "99 percent perfect".

"I have every belief in my team that we can do that".

Their drivers are triple World Champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, an experienced teammate ushered in to replace the retired World Champion, Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton was more for turning back the clock when it came to the series' power units, however, agreeing with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo's wish for no more "electric engines" in Formula One.

Red Bull will also be hoping to get into the mix this weekend and turn the battle for victory into a three-way thriller.

As such Hamilton has billed Ferrari as the team to beat Down Under. "So it will be exciting to find out where we all are on Saturday and Sunday to get a first impression", he said.

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"What's really encouraging is that we've arrived at the track just a week later and the auto is exactly where it should be". From what I have seen, and experienced so far, this vehicle can. "We'll see tomorrow how it really stands".

Four-time world champion Vettel completed only 10 laps in the morning session but had 35 in the second session.

"It'll be interesting for us all to see the pecking order emerge as each session goes by, as well as where our own strengths and weaknesses lie, and we're prepared for a challenging weekend ahead". "I think during testing, we managed to work well as a team and it was a good team spirit the whole time and I see no reason why it shouldn't continue like that", said Bottas about the Englishman.

According to changes in aerodynamic regulations, the cars will be wider (up from 1,800mm to 2,000mm), the front wings will be wider (from 1,650mm to 1,800mm), the height of rear wings has been brought down (from 950mm to 800mm), and diffusers have been made more powerful with an increase in height and width. The first two sessions have confirmed that is the case among the top contenders. For 2017 and basis pre-season testing times, fans might just be lucky to witness the top three teams in the sport compete for top honours - a rare feat in recent times. The vehicle doesn't yet feel as good as it should and as it can.

Rosberg's Finnish father, Keijo "Keke" Rosberg, won in 1982, followed by Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999, and Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

"We know Ferrari have had a good winter but we're hopeful we can close that overnight".

Felipe Massa was seventh fastest for Williams ahead of Haas's Romain Grosjean.

Briton Jolyon Palmer was 19th out of the 20 cars, his session cut short due to a seal problem with his Renault. Whether the championship is sealed with a handful of races to go, or it isn't settled until the last lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we're in for one hell of a season.

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