Lewis Hamilton v Sebastian Vettel - Albert Park opener no indicator of what lies ahead in F1

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, signs autographs as he arrives at the track of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, signs autographs as he arrives at the track of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel feel no need to stamp their authority on the new F1 season ahead of the curtain raiser in Australia.

The reigning champion starts the defence of his fifth title at Albert Park this weekend with Vettel, who himself has won the crown four times, eager to stop the Briton’s reign.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers have said they will be able to race with, and against, their team-mates – despite the new team principal of the Italian outfit suggesting they would favour Vettel over Charles Leclerc in certain situations.

Hamilton will go into this morning’s qualifying session the happier of the two drivers, having completed a practice double on Friday and blown away questions about a disparity in pace between his Mercedes and the Ferrari in winter testing. Hamilton, whose first win of last season came in Azerbaijan in round four, said he did not feel as if he needed to grab the new campaign by the scruff of the neck.

He said: “It’s a long season, so I don’t particularly feel it’s the most important thing. It’s really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you are getting as many points as you can, of course, but I’m not really one for needing to stamp authority.”

Vettel, seeking to make it three consecutive Australian Grand Prix wins in a row, said: “I don’t think we will win it here, I don’t think we will lose it here.

“It’s a long way. Hopefully we have a strong package, a strong team that carries us into a position at the end of the year to fight for it.”

The reigning world champion had said his team had “work to do” after the pre-season testing sessions but no-one could match the Silver Arrows under blue skies at Melbourne’s Albert Park in second practice.

First Valtteri Bottas went around in one minute 22.648 seconds to lead the pack halfway through the 90-minute session with his first lap on soft tyres –half a second quicker than his pace on mediums.

Then Hamilton went purple in his first sector and laid down a marker ahead of qualifying session with a time of 1min 22.600secs. The remaining field were at least 0.8 seconds behind, with Max Verstappen clocking one minute 23.400 for third, followed by Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly 0.042 seconds further back.

The spectre of team orders loomed large for Mercedes at last year’s Russian Grand Prix, where Bottas ceded his lead to Hamilton with less than half the race gone to help the Briton’s title ambitions.