'˜Unbeatable' Lewis Hamilton puts the brakes on Ferrari

If Carlsberg did grand prix departs, it would probably look something like Melbourne, the perfect spot to kick off anything.

Fans take selfies with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton who was fastest in practice ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. Picture: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Australia is not alone in knowing how to put on a show. The municipality of Montreal also throws everything behind the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, for example, but then the circuit is not a corner kick from the Pacific Ocean and there is nothing quite like a flat white on Fitzroy to start the day.

A winter of wondering what the brave new world of fatter tyres, broader beams and shark fins might hold was settled in emphatic style by a ridiculously quick Lewis Hamilton, who dismantled Ferrari’s pre-season swagger with a lap half a second quicker in the Mercedes.

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“I am on it and I plan to keep it that way, Hamilton said. “It is a wonderful feeling to have the car so strong coming into 
a new era.” Sebastian Vettel contained his shock at the gap to Mercedes, claiming there was more to come.

Indeed by the time you read this, Vettel might be the one looking down his nose, but there was something about the way Hamilton’s biceps bulged that told the paddock the new pecking order might just be the same as the old.

The difference this year is that Hamilton does not have a team-mate hardened by a decade in Formula 1. Valtteri Bottas is a smart driver but has neither the experience nor workplace familiarity to give him the hurry up over the opening races.

If yesterday’s dominance plays out we could be ripping up the record books. Remember Hamilton ended last season with four straight wins. Four more out of the box would set a record for consecutive wins in Formula 1.

And, were he to pull that off, we could be looking at a world championship settled before the summer recess, taking us back to the days when Michael Schumacher had the sport 
to himself and the title was 
history by July.

This is, of course, the opposite of what was intended when the old design template was shredded. The hope was that Ferrari or Red Bull would discover an aerodynamic 
silver bullet to shoot Mercedes down. Hamilton dumped all over that dream.

“It feels amazing and that is surprising. I didn’t know how it was going to be,” he said. “The test was not spectacular so coming into today it was quite refreshing to have the car right where I needed it.

“I felt good in the car and I didn’t even notice the cars being more physical, which is also a positive. The Ferrari is obviously very strong and fast, they might not have the power turned up or whatever and we will see tomorrow, but it seems we are as strong, if not a bit stronger than them.”

Vettel was left hoping 
Hamilton’s times were not representative. “We were very happy in testing and the times looked good but it doesn’t mean anything. I am not that happy overall. The balance is not yet where I want it to be. It is not bad but I think we can do better.”

Hamilton’s time of 1:23.620 beat Schumacher’s lap record set in 2004 by half a second and was seven seconds quicker than his fastest here two years ago. His boss, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, described Hamilton as unbeatable on this form.

Red Bull counterpart, Christian Horner, said: “From the performance we’ve seen today from Lewis, he’s the absolute favourite. He was the favourite coming here and all today has done is underline that.”

Hamilton said his car was 99 per cent perfect, night and day compared to the machine he left behind in testing at Barcelona, so technically it could get worse for the field. Even if the Friday variables, engine mode settings, fuel loads, etc were not known, half a second is a chunk of time to make up.

You might say Hamilton is optimistic about his prospects in tomorrow’s race. “I feel very much at home in Melbourne. There’s always a great buzz here and a lot of support. I’m just really happy to see everyone and receive their positive energy. I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win.”