Hamilton laps up crowd's cheers at F1 season launch party in Melbourne

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel prepares during the first Formula One practice session in Melbourne on March 15 ahead of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix

Two-time defending Australian Grand Prix champion Sebastian Vettel has warned his Ferrari is in even better shape than 12 months ago ahead of this weekend's Formula One season opener in Melbourne.

But it was Ferrari who sizzled in pre-season testing to emerge as the early favourites in Australia, with Hamilton claiming the Italian team could be up to half a second quicker around Albert Park on Sunday.

"The Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix is a spectacle of colour, sound and excitement, and our partnership with CHiQ enables us to deliver all the action to our hospitality guests and event patrons in crystal clear, high definition", said Andrew Westacott, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.

Mercedes may have won the last five constructors' titles in Formula One but Valtteri Bottas expects the Silver Arrows to be chasing rivals Ferrari in Melbourne this weekend. Just after the test I went back, and Toto rallied the troops and we all sat together and it's really impressive to see so many people so passionate about their jobs and so passionate about racing and wanting to do a better job and always wanting to improve.

"But an F1 season is not just about who comes out of the blocks quickest", he added.

"As a team, we have learned a lot about the package we had in testing, and how we can optimise it better for the first race".

"This is going to be the toughest battle yet", said the Briton, although Mercedes, who have won five drivers' and constructors' titles in a row, may not have shown their full hand yet.

After a series of unlucky races at the start of the 2018 season, Bottas finished the year with no wins to Hamilton's 11.

Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon, meanwhile, became the first driver to hit the barriers in the new season when he span out mid-way through the session.

"The vehicle will be fresher here [in Australia]", Hamilton said of his W10 Mercedes in spite of the lack of updates post-testing.

Vettel is keen on having some fun. "It is the second debut for me after being away from the sport for many years". The 29-year-old Finn is now entering his third year with the world champions and says it is time to be more selfish in order to achieve his career goal of winning the world championship.

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