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Lewis Hamilton posts fastest time in first practice in Austria

:Headline: Lewis Hamilton posts fastest time in first practice in Austria:
World champion is the man to catch in practice ahead of Sunday's race in Spielberg.

Lewis Hamilton kicked off his world championship defence in typical fashion by setting the fastest time in first practice ahead of the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

The delayed campaign finally got under way at Spielberg's Red Bull Ring on Friday, three-and-a-half months after the doomed Australian Grand Prix was cancelled and 215 days since the final competitive action in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year.

It marks the longest break in Formula One history after this season's calendar was torn up following the Covid-19 pandemic.

But there was a familiar name at the top of the time charts in Austria, as Hamilton – this year bidding to equal Michael Schumacher's record of seven world championships – set a blistering pace.

Lewis Hamilton impressed in practice ahead of Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix (AP)

The 35-year-old Mercedes driver finished a third of a second clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in third, 0.6 seconds off the pace.

Mercedes, who have ditched their traditional silver livery for black this term in the fight against racism, confirmed they are using their controversial Dual-Axis System (DAS).

The device, which they first unveiled at testing in February, allows Hamilton to pull his steering wheel towards him, narrowing the alignment of the front wheels on his Mercedes and increasing his straight-line speed.  He can also push the wheel away before cornering to improve the car's set-up.

And the early evidence suggests that the concept will enable the sport's all-conquering team to begin yet another campaign as the team to beat as they go in search of a seventh consecutive drivers' and constructors' championship.

Valtteri Bottas was not far behind his team-mate (PA)

Team principal Toto Wolff was wearing a face visor in the Mercedes garage as the sport operates under unprecedented measures during the coronavirus crisis.

Face masks are mandatory, while teams are operating in mini-bubbles to ensure a positive Covid-19 test will not close the show as it did in Melbourne back in March. There were no fans at the circuit.

It was McLaren's withdrawal – after one of their team members contracted, and later recovered, from the virus, – which set the chain in motion for the event to be called off.

The British team will have been pleased here to see Carlos Sainz fourth in the order, with team-mate Lando Norris in sixth. Racing Point's Sergio Perez spilt the pair in fifth.

The stands will remain empty in Austria (AP)

Ferrari are running the car which proved to be off the pace in testing before they introduce their updated machine at the scheduled third round in Hungary later this month.

Charles Leclerc was only 10th here, an eye-watering 1.1 seconds behind Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel even further back in 12th. The four-time world champion could be entering the final year of his career if he is unable to find a seat for 2021 after being dropped by Ferrari.

The second running of the weekend begins later on Friday afternoon.

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Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CLiverpool38323385335299
2Manchester CityMan City382639102356781
3Manchester UnitedMan Utd391813867373067
4Chelsea392061370571366
5Leicester CityLeicester381881267412662
6Tottenham HotspurSpurs3816111161471459
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves381514951401159
8Arsenal381414105648856
9Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd381412123939054
10Burnley38159144350-754
11Everton401411154858-1053
12Southampton38157165160-952
13Crystal Palace391210173350-1746
14Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381111163858-2044
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914153954-1541
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham38109194962-1339
17Aston Villa3898214167-2635
RBournemouth3897224065-2534
RWatford38810203664-2834
RNorwich CityNorwich3956282677-5121
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