Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel feel no need to stamp their authority on the new F1 season ahead of the curtain raiser in Australia.

The reigning champion starts the defence of his fifth title at Albert Park this weekend with Vettel, who himself has won the crown four times, eager to stop the Briton’s reign.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers have said they will be able to race with, and against, their team-mates – despite the new team principal of the Italian outfit suggesting they would favour Vettel over Charles Leclerc in certain situations.

Hamilton will go into Saturday’s qualifying session the happier of the two drivers, having completed a practice double on Friday and blown away questions about a disparity in pace between his Mercedes and the Ferrari in winter testing.

Hamilton, whose first win of last season came in Azerbaijan in round four, said he did not feel as if he needed to grab the new campaign by the scruff of the neck.

The Briton has taken part in 12 Australian Grand Prix, here's where he's finished.
  • 1st: Twice (2008, 2015)
  • 2nd: Four times (2011, 2016-2018)
  • 3rd: Twice (2007, 2012)
  • In the points but off the podium: Twice (2010, sixth; 2013, fifth)
  • Did not finish: Twice (2009, disqualified; 2014, retired)

He said: “It’s a long season, so I don’t particularly feel it’s the most important thing.

“I think it’s really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you are getting as many points as you can, of course, but I’m not really one for needing to stamp authority.”

Vettel, seeking to make it three consecutive Australian Grand Prix wins in a row, said: “I don’t think we will win it here, I don’t think we will lose it here.

“It’s a long way. Hopefully we have a strong package, a strong team that carries us into a position at the end of the year to fight for it.”

The reigning world champion had said his team had “work to do” after the pre-season testing sessions but no-one could match the Silver Arrows under blue skies at Melbourne’s Albert Park in second practice on Friday afternoon.

First Valtteri Bottas went around in one minute 22.648 seconds to lead the pack halfway through the 90-minute session with his first lap on soft tyres – half a second quicker than his pace on mediums.

Then Hamilton went purple in his first sector and laid down a marker ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session with a time of 1min 22.600secs.

The remaining field were at least 0.8 seconds behind, with Max Verstappen clocking one minute 23.400 for third, followed by Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly 0.042 seconds further back.

The spectre of team orders loomed large for Mercedes at last year’s Russian Grand Prix, where Bottas ceded his lead to Hamilton with less than half the race gone to help the Briton’s title ambitions.

And for Ferrari new team principal Mattia Binotto said the priority would be Vettel in “particular situations”.

But Hamilton said there would be no priority given to either himself or the Finn, adding: “We’re free to race like every single year so that was even said at the beginning of…back at the factory and it’s repeated today and that’s how I like it.”

Vettel said: “I think Charles will do his best to help himself and help the team and that’s the same for me.

“I will do my best to help myself and to help the team. So, in the end we’re racing for Ferrari and that means we try to get Ferrari back to where we’ve been trying to get it back to for the last couple of years.”

“I think it’s very clear, and I think Mattia (Binotto, team principal) also made it very clear, we are free to race, free to race each other.”

Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+ HandoutMercedes will line up with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton this season (Mercedes/PA)

Meanwhile, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said Hamilton’s activities outside of Formula One – skydiving and his fashion brand – were not a “negative distraction”.

He said: “Lewis is not an 18 or 19-year-old young man any more. He’s a five-time World Champion.

“He knows exactly what works for him and what doesn’t.

“All these activities, in my experience, are not a negative distraction but on the other hand something that he enjoys.

“Some people go on a meditation seminar to India. Others do skydiving. Others are out for the ladies. Let’s accept how everyone is. He is justified and has shown that he is one of the best out there.”