Lewis Hamilton predicts a tough battle in Australian GP

Image AFP  William West

"It is one thing to drive a Formula 1 auto, and it is another thing to actually race it".

Lewis Hamilton has won four of those crowns and heads into the new season as a double-defending champion.

Mercedes struggled to find a suitable auto balance in the opening week and while the team's fortunes appeared to improve with a raft of aerodynamic updates introduced for week two, Hamilton suggested that the gap to Ferrari was "potentially half a second" after the final day of pre-season testing.

The bookmakers have Vettel as clear favourite to win on Sunday although new Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto suggested Mercedes were not as far off the pace as Hamilton suggested.

All 20 drivers and their team bosses were met by thousands of supporters at the inaugural season launch event in Federation Square on Wednesday.

Mercedes will go in with Hamilton and the regular Valtteri Bottas.

As ever, both Ferrari and Mercedes are being extremely cagey.

Charles Leclerc impressed last term and has earned a seat beside Vettel who will no doubt be seeking his 5th drivers title after 2018's disappointment. He has a new partner in Pierre Gasly after Daniel Ricciardo's shock decision to leave for Renault. The pair aim to bridge the gap to the front two teams but could also face a tricky transitional period after the engine switch. "It matters who improves the most".

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Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon spun and hit the wall during Practice 1, leading to the session being red flagged.

After it was confirmed that his father partially owns Racing Point, Lance Stroll has been paired with Mexican Sergio Perez after Esteban Ocon narrowly missed out on a seat and will be a Mercedes reserve driver.

Kimi Raikkonen was a promising sixth-quickest for the Alfa Romeo team, with the returning Daniil Kvyat seventh for Toro Rosso.

Melbourne is preparing to host its 24th Grand Prix since first doing so in 1996.

"I've got great memories of this track". The drivers took a walk around the circuit at Albert Park, where they will kick off their title bids on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's season opener in Melbourne, the Briton continues to insist that his Maranello rivals have the edge.

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