Lewis Hamilton says the initial feeling during Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix reminds him of 2018, having shown strong pace in FP2.

Mercedes appeared on the back foot compared to Ferrari during pre-season, with Hamilton estimating the Scuderia held an advantage of up to half a second in Barcelona. However, it was the defending champion who led the way on Friday in Melbourne as Mercedes was 0.8s clear of the field and he says the way the car is responding is encouraging.

“The car is in a similar place to where it was in Barcelona, which is really positive going from a different track,” Hamilton said. “We got through our program really well, no issues on track. There are areas where we can continue to improve the car.

“What was surprising is to see the balance shift out there in terms of where everyone else was standing, but in FP1 usually Ferrari tend to hold back a little bit and it changes through the day. I think they lost a little bit of performance for some reason in practice two, but again we just focus on trying to do the best job we can and executing in all areas. There’s plenty of things we can improve on, which is a positive, but it’s absolutely not a bad start at all.”

Hamilton believes Mercedes is close to getting the maximum out of its car in its current guise, but says the more data it can gather on Saturday the better at this stage of the season.

“I’m really happy with where we are and there’s not a huge amount more we can do with the way the car is currently designed. So we’ve got mods coming — we’ve got tests coming, for example, so we’ll get into that. But we can still change things with setup and that’s what we’re just going to continue to work on.

“But like I said, I really have a positive buzz from driving the car today. It’s not too dissimilar to how it was last year driving around here. It’s such a great track and with these new cars the flow is beautiful. It’s how a Formula 1 car is supposed to be when they’re wide and they’re big, the aerodynamic flow we have on the car.

“What we’ve got to do is to really study and analyze everything, as we always do on a Friday night. But the fact is we’ve got two cars that continue to go ’round, none of us made any mistakes. That counts for a lot — keeping the car in one piece — so we’ll just have to do the same thing tomorrow.”