Mercedes pulled comfortably clear of the rest of the field in the second practice session for the Australian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton again topped the times.
Hamilton had been top in FP1 but Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull were covered by just 0.2s on that occasion. In the second session, Hamilton’s time of 1m22.600s left him just 0.048s clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas but exactly 0.8s ahead of the third-placed Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Verstappen had an offset session compared to the rest of the field, only completing a qualifying simulation in the final 15 minutes. The rest did so around the halfway stage — as is the norm in FP2 — before carrying out long runs on high fuel.
Red Bull ended up third and fourth with Pierre Gasly only 0.042s off his teammate, as the rest of the field remained much more closely matched. Gasly was 0.031s ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with Ferrari not displaying the sort of pace it seemed capable of in pre-season testing.
Charles Leclerc had a difficult session, ending up down in ninth place and over 1.1s off the pace on his soft tire run, and then suffering a slightly strange spin late in the session. As he accelerated out of Turn 4, Leclerc tried to catch some oversteer and swapped ends, sliding backwards onto the grass and having to take care rejoining while facing oncoming cars.
Vettel was fifth overall following his own trip across the grass at Turn 1 early on, and there was a sense of deja vu as he was closely followed by his former teammate Kimi Raikkonen. For the second session in succession, Raikkonen was best of the rest behind the top three teams, with his best lap of 1m23.572s leaving him just 0.002s ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.
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. Romain Grosjean recovered from some technical issues — including a loss of telemetry after 15 minutes of the session — to post the 10th-fastest time.
Given the fact the top 18 cars were covered by 2.3 seconds in FP1, that gap actually came down to 2.1s in the second session, suggesting Red Bull and Ferrari have plenty of time still to find over one lap having not made the same step as the rest of the field. It also ensured an extremely close group from third to 18th, with only Mercedes and Williams not included in a field spread of 1.3s.
It was a tricky second session for the inexperienced drivers, with Alexander Albon again making errors after his crash in FP1. Albon went wide at Turn 4 and blamed getting a finger stuck, before spinning on the approach to Turn 15 and ending up on the grass.
Albon wasn’t alone in making the second mistake, as Antonio Giovinazzi did similar in a session where he ended up 0.7s adrift of Alfa teammate Raikkonen. That deficit meant a difference of nine positions, while Albon and Lando Norris were similar amounts slower than their teammates Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz respectively.
The other rookie in the field — 2018 Formula 2 champion George Russell — also had an off when he ran wide at Turn 4 late in the session and had to recover through the gravel, on what was a chastening day for Williams. Russell was the quicker of the two cars in FP2, beating Robert Kubica by 0.2s, but the pair were nearly two seconds off the back of the pack.