SPO_230331 F1-1680266974058
Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso during the second practice session of the Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on Friday. Image Credit: AFP

Melbourne: Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso went quickest ahead of Ferrari ace Charles Leclerc in a rain-interrupted second practice at the Australian Grand Prix on Friday, with defending world champion Max Verstappen third.

The Spanish veteran followed up his podium finishes at the first two races of the season in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by topping the Melbourne timesheets.

He powered around the bumpy Albert Park circuit under darkening clouds and before rain fell in a best time of one minute 18.887 seconds among his 13 laps, bettering his fourth place in the first one-hour session.

Leclerc, who won in Australia last year, came an encouraging second after Ferrari’s early season reliability and pace issues, nearly half a second adrift but ahead of Verstappen.

SPO_230331 F1 1-1680266976913
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc prepares to leave the pitland during the practice session in Melbourne. Image Credit: AFP

The Red Bull pilot, the early championship leader, clocked a 1:18.790 in the first practice when he had an out-of-character spin, which was better than Alonso’s second session best.

But the Dutchman had no decent opportunity to improve on it on a wet track.

Red Bull are attempting to score a third consecutive 1-2 finish for the first time in the team’s history in Melbourne after their dominance in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

SPO_230331 F1 2-1680266979737
Max Verstappen could not improve on his timing on a wet track. Image Credit: AFP

Surprise second

Verstappen’s teammate and Jeddah winner Sergio Perez came seventh. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was a surprise second in the opening practice but could only manage a disappointing 13th in FP2.

His teammate George Russell was fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon sixth.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly in the other Alpine rounded out the top 10.

Electrical problem

Williams’ Logan Sargeant, who had an electrical problem during the first practice, failed to complete a lap.

As in FP1, Sainz was first out and set the early pace before Verstappen, who made his debut at the 2015 Australian GP as a 17-year-old, quickly took over to power clear.

But his reign at the top was brief, with Alonso posting a sizzling lap and Leclerc also bettering him before light rain began falling and the umbrellas went up in the grandstand.

Plumes of spray

Virtually all the cars headed back to the pits with 40 minutes remaining after Norris ran onto the grass at Turn 1 when his grip failed and Lance Stroll tapped a wall in his Aston Martin.

The drizzle eased and several cars headed back out, including Sainz and Leclerc with plumes of spray behind their cars.

But they didn’t last, with Leclerc saying on the team radio “there’s no point driving like this”.

Others ventured out to test the waters later, primarily to gather data in case there is more rain on Saturday, but no one improved their times.

Dry forecast

As it stands, the forecast for Sunday’s race is dry.

In an eventful first practice, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda both skidded into the gravel with the Japanese star hitting it backwards and narrowly avoiding the barriers.

There were also some close calls with that session red-flagged for safety reasons due to GPS issues, with teams not able to monitor car position and closing speed properly.

It was halted again when Sargeant stopped on the track with just minutes remaining.