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Lewis Hamilton finished just 13th in second practice at the Australian Grand Prix as championship leader Charles Leclerc set the fastest time.

A fortnight before the controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Formula 1 returns to Melbourne’s Albert Park for the first time since the 2020 race was canceled due to the pandemic. And Hamilton, who finished a lowly 10th in Jeddah, was again behind in his underperforming Mercedes.

The seven-time world champion demanded more power and more grip after his disappointing performance in the previous round. But Mercedes has arrived in Australia without any major upgrades as it continues to battle new regulations.

Hamilton finished 1.5 seconds behind Leclerc, with world champion Max Verstappen second, 0.245 seconds adrift and Carlos Sainz third in the other Ferrari. None of the Mercedes drivers broke into the top 10 on Friday afternoon after Hamilton team-mate George Russell finished 11th, 1.2 seconds down. Fernando Alonso, who made his debut here 21 years ago, finished fourth for Alpine, one place ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Hamilton finished second behind former team-mate Valterri Bottas in the last race held here in 2019. But the circuit has undergone a number of changes since to spice up what may be a largely uneventful race. The track was resurfaced and widened at turns 1, 6 and the penultimate turn, while the chicane was removed at turns 9 and 10 to provide drivers with high-speed drag until turn 11; offering greater overtaking opportunities.

Sebastian Vettel has been ruled out of races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia after testing positive for Covid-19. The quadruple world champion is back in action this weekend, but his first outing ended prematurely following an engine failure.

Lewis Hamilton struggles to train at Australian GP as Leclerc sets tone |  Formula One
Charles Leclerc performed well in second practice with his Ferrari at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Photograph: Joel Carrett/EPA

Vettel stopped with smoke billowing from his Aston Martin. He rode back to those pits on a moped, waving to the crowd – an incident which is being investigated by stewards. He then failed to qualify for the final action of the day after his team was unable to change its faulty power supply in time.

Vettel’s team-mate Lance Stroll finished 14th on a day that is unlikely to improve the mood in Aston Martin’s camp after their lackluster start to the season. Only they and Williams are without a point so far.

British driver Lando Norris finished eighth for McLaren, two places ahead of teammate and local favorite Daniel Ricciardo.

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