Mercedes dominates as expected in first practice for Formula One season opener in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes drivers began what is expected to be another dominant year in Formula One by setting the fastest times in Friday’s first practice session at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg set the best time of 1 minute, 29. 557 seconds at the Albert Park circuit, just three-hundredths of a second ahead of teammate and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes picked up immediately from where it left off in a commanding 2014.

They were more of a second clear of the next fastest driver, Valtteri Bottas of Williams.

Toro Rosso rookies Carlos Sainz Jr. and 17-year-old Max Verstappen completed the most laps to gain added experience in their first look at the circuit. They were fourth- and sixth-fastest, respectively, separated by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, making his first official outing for Ferrari after switching from Red Bull.

They were followed by Williams’ Felipe Massa, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, Pastor Maldonado of Lotus and local favourite Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

McLaren experienced more engine trouble after a difficult pre-season with the new power unit supplied by Honda, which is returning to the sport. Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen — filling for the injured Fernando Alonso — were down in 14th and 15th on the timesheets after limited running.

Neither the Sauber nor Manor teams took any part in the session.

Sauber was facing a contempt of court hearing later in the day, in which lawyers for driver Giedo van der Garde will argue the team had not done enough to comply with court orders to reinstate the Dutchman as driver.

The Dutch driver maintains he was promised a seat for the 2015 season, but the Swiss team dumped him in favour of Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian Felipe Nasr in November.

Manor, previously known as Marussia, is under new ownership, meaning the team is in a race against time to prepare its cars and equipment to be ready for Saturday’s qualifying.

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