FP1 Australian Grand Prix 2024 report and highlights: Lando Norris fastest in first Australian practice after Alex Albon causes red flag

Lando Norris set the pace for McLaren in Friday’s opening free practice session for the Australian Grand Prix, leading the way for Red Bull rival Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell.

A bright and sunny hour of practice at Albert Park saw plenty of wild moments and off-track excursions as drivers picked up speed on the streets of Melbourne and an initially dusty surface was gradually cleared.

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The greatest of those moments came with about 20 minutes to go when Alex Albon took too much corner on the exit of Turn 7 and couldn’t stop his Williams from being spat into the wall on the other side of the track.

While Albon reported on the radio that he was fine after stopping at Turn 8, having drifted around the circuit, his broken down car and the numerous pieces of carbon fiber that had come loose meant that the session was red flagged for several minutes.

When the action resumed, a large number of drivers left on soft tires in a bid to improve their times and eclipse Norris’ existing P1 benchmark, but the latter narrowly retained first place – 0.018 seconds ahead of Verstappen – with his 1m 18.564. s effort on the rubber marked in red.

Charles Leclerc led Ferrari’s charge into fourth, with Yuki Tsunoda a high-flying fifth for RB thanks to a well-timed switch to the softs, followed by the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez in sixth and the Aston Martin by Lance Stroll in the seventh.

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Carlos Sainz marked his return from appendicitis surgery in eighth, just under a tenth behind teammate Leclerc, while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton ninth after reporting suspected ground damage after having driven on the sidewalks at turn 10.

Other drivers who had incidents at the high-speed Turn 9/10 chicane were Hamilton’s teammate Russell with a dramatic slam, Kick Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas with a spin and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso with a trip in the gravel.

Verstappen was also captured exploring the limits in the closing stages of the session as he attacked the sequence of turns 9/10 and reported that “I bottomed out quite hard there”, but without apparent consequences.

Local favorites Oscar Piastri and Daniel Ricciardo found themselves in P10 and P11 respectively for McLaren and RB, with Albon on the sidelines in 12th, Haas leader Kevin Magnussen in 13th and the other Williams of Logan Sargeant in 14th.

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Alpine had another quiet start to the weekend as Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly placed 15th and 17th respectively, separated by the second Haas machine of Nico Hulkenberg, who was seen marking Sainz’s car in the late pit lane queue.

Alonso was 18th after a floor change, while Kick Sauber brought up the rear with Zhou Guanyu and the aforementioned Bottas in P19 and P20 – the drivers and their teams are now ready for a few hours of post-session learning before the runners-up tests.

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