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Australian GP: Charles Leclerc fastest in opening Free Practice Down Under

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc edged Max Verstappen and Scuderia teammate Carlos Sainz in the first Free Practice of the Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

Verstappen is bidding to match his record of 10 consecutive wins at this weekend's race in Melbourne.

But Leclerc could pose a threat to the all-conquering Dutchman, following an impressive practice lap that put him nearly four-tenths clear.

Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz – back in his cockpit following British teenager Ollie Bearman's stand-in drive in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago – ended the running in third, with Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso fourth and fifth, respectively, for Aston Martin.

George Russell took sixth for Mercedes, 0.674 seconds behind Leclerc, but teammate Lewis Hamilton finished ahead of only Haas' Kevin Magnussen on a troubling day for the seven-time world champion.

Hamilton, 39, ran off the road in the first running at a sun-cooked Albert Park, and his struggles continued into the day's concluding session, with a best lap that put him 1.5 sec off the pace and nearly a second behind Russell.

"What times are people doing?" Hamilton asked over the radio. After he was informed of leader Leclerc's pace, he replied, "Yeah, something is wrong."

Only 19 drivers took part in the second session following Alex Albon's high-speed crash in the opening session.

The London-born Thai driver lost control of his Williams on the exit of Turn 6 before smashing into the wall on the inside of the track and rebounding across the circuit.

Albon's right-front wheel tore off his machine under impact, with debris from his Williams littering the track.

Albon came to a standstill and was able to get out of his cockpit. "Sorry," he said over the radio before he was taken away in the medical car.

"Muchos debris," said Lando Norris. "Is he alright? It looked pretty large."

Albon, 27, was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks as the session was red-flagged to clear his destroyed machine.

Williams said he would not participate in the second practice due to the damage to his car, and it is uncertain if he will be able to take part in the remainder of the weekend with spare parts limited to the British team.

Elsewhere, home favourite Oscar Piastri finished seventh, two positions ahead of Norris in the other McLaren who had topped the time charts earlier in the day in front of a record 124,000-strong crowd.

FP1 results

1    Charles Leclerc    MON    Scuderia Ferrari    1m17.277s
2    Max Verstappen    NED    Oracle Red Bull Racing    1m17.658s
3    Carlos Sainz    ESP    Scuderia Ferrari    1m17.707s
4    Lance Stroll    CAN    Aston Martin Aramco F1 Team    1m17.822s
5    Fernando Alonso    ESP    Aston Martin Aramco F1 Team    1m17.912s
6    George Russell    GBR    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team    1m17.951s
7    Oscar Piastri    AUS    McLaren F1 Team    1m18.077s
8    Sergio Perez    MEX    Oracle Red Bull Racing    1m18.090s
9    Lando Norris    GBR    McLaren F1 Team    1m18.155s
10    Yuki Tsunoda    JPN    Visa Cash App RB F1 Team    1m18.188s
11    Zhou Guanyu    CHN    Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber    1m18.421s
12    Daniel Ricciardo    AUS    Visa Cash App RB F1 Team    1m18.534s
13    Logan Sargeant    USA    Williams Racing    1m18.578s
14    Valtteri Bottas    FIN    Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber    1m18.585s
15    Pierre Gasly    FRA    BWT Alpine F1 Team    1m18.691s
16    Nico Hulkenberg    GER    MoneyGram Haas F1 Team    1m18.702s
17    Esteban Ocon    FRA    BWT Alpine F1 Team    1m18.705s
18    Lewis Hamilton    GBR    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team    1m18.834s
19    Kevin Magnussen    DEN    MoneyGram Haas F1 Team    1m19.275s
20    Alex Albon    THA    Williams Racing    No Time Set

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