Three weeks after he had hoped to be starring in Formula One's Australian Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc saw the chequered flag confirm a virtual victory in Melbourne.

In the second event of F1's Virtual Grand Prix Series - an Esports tournament filling the gap while the real thing is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic - FDA Hublot Esports driver Leclerc delivered a dominant performance.

Leclerc, who won back-to-back races in Belgium and Italy during his debut season with Ferrari in 2019, was on pole and never looked troubled around Albert Park, winning after 29 laps.

Renault's Christian Lundgaard was second, with Williams' George Russell finishing third, denying Arthur Leclerc a place on the podium alongside his brother.

"It was unbelievably hard," Charles Leclerc said.

"We are sitting on a chair so there's not even the g-force we have in a real car.

"But I'm sweating like crazy. The muscles are not hurting but [with] the concentration and everything I've been sweating a lot."

Having seen singer Liam Payne, once of One Direction, struggle during the first race of the series, an early crash left England all-rounder Ben Stokes playing catch-up.

Stokes would finish 18th out of 18 drivers, one spot behind three-time F1 race winner Johnny Herbert.

"It's the taking part that counts...it's what I always tell my kids," Stokes wrote on Twitter.

Former F1 world champion Jenson Button finished 12th and had a better time of it than Lando Norris, who was unable to take his place on the grid due to technical difficulties.

"I pressed to join the race and it just said, 'Sorry, you're not allowed to join the race'," Norris revealed on Twitch in a chat with Max Verstappen.

Upon learning of Norris' struggles, Red Bull's Verstappen replied: "Yeah, I will never join that."

Formula One teams are discussing the prospect of holding two-day grands prix and extending the 2020 season until January 2021.

Chase Carey, the CEO of F1, is still hoping to hold 15 to 18 races this season once normality has returned after the coronavirus pandemic.

The first eight races of the campaign are either postponed or cancelled with more likely to follow as lockdown restrictions remain widespread.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto thinks teams will be as flexible as possible to find a solution, including two-day race weekends with practice held on a Saturday.

"We are engaged in constant dialogue," Binotto told Sky Italia. "I have felt, along with the other team principals, that these are crucial moments. 

"With regards to the timetable, we have given Carey and the FIA the freedom to define the calendar as they need to under these conditions.

"We can also have two-day weekends, with free practice moved to Saturday morning, so that we can meet the logistical needs in case of grands prix being close together.

"In addition, the current shutdown leaves room for the possibility of being able to compete in August if there are conditions to be able to do so."

Binotto would be willing to race into 2021 if it meant something closer to a full championship could take place.

He, his drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, as well as the whole Ferrari team, are working remotely.

"These are all places where we, as a team, need to ensure maximum availability," Binotto said about extending the season.

"If this [move] allows us to guarantee a more complete 2020 world championship, with the following season not starting until March, there is great availability for that.

"We started [remote] smart-working right after Australia. Now we're in FIA shutdown, which continues the period that in our case started early.

"With Seb and Charles, we speak almost daily. They are both at home and they are training as always. They are undoubtedly fit."

The 2020 Formula One season could include between 15 and 18 races in a revised calendar that will likely run into December, according to Chase Carey.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, F1 has been forced to delay the start to the new campaign, Azerbaijan becoming the latest Grand Prix to be postponed on Monday.

The season-opener in Australia, due to take place on March 15, and the Monaco event have both been cancelled, with the next race on the original schedule due to take place in Canada on June 14. 

In a statement, F1 chairman and CEO Carey did not reveal an update over a potential start date but made clear the 10 teams and the FIA remain "committed" to delivering a championship, aided by the usual mid-season break being shifted forward to March and April.

As well as Azerbaijan, postponed races in Bahrain, Vietnam, China, the Netherlands and Spain could get new dates, though much depends on developments with the ongoing global pandemic.

"We recognise there is significant potential for additional postponements in currently scheduled events, nonetheless we and our partners fully expect the season to start at some point this summer, with a revised calendar of between 15-18 races, Carey said.

"As previously announced, we will utilise the summer break being brought forward to March/April, to race during the normal summer break period and anticipate the season end date will extend beyond our original end date of 27-29 November, with the actual sequence and schedule dates for races differing significantly from our original 2020 calendar.

"It is not possible to provide a more specific calendar now due to the fluidity of the current situation but we expect to gain clearer insights to the situation in each of our host countries, as well as the issues related to travel to these countries, in the coming month."

In the absence of the usual racing calendar, F1 launched the Virtual Grand Prix Series on Sunday.

Former One Direction singer Liam Payne represented Williams but finished last among the drivers to complete the Bahrain leg - won by Renault test driver Guanyu Zhou - of the Esports tournament.

Mick Schumacher turned 21 on Sunday and the Ferrari Driver Academy have offered him their congratulations.

In January 2019, he joined the team with whom his father dominated the sport in the early 2000s.

Michael Schumacher won the drivers' title every year from 2000 to 2004 and is regarded as one of Formula One's greatest drivers.

But son Mick has been forging his own path in motorsport over recent years and won the Formula 3 European Championship in 2018.

Since signing, he has had the full support of Ferrari in achieving the ultimate goal of reaching F1 and will have the backing of the fans who idolised his father in years gone by.

He won his first F2 race in 2019 and took part in several F1 tests.

As he turns 21, we take a look at the drivers who made it from the Ferrari Driver Academy to the F1 grid and how they fared.

 

Jules Bianchi

Bianchi was the first recruit to the programme in 2009, signing up to a long-term deal with the Italian giants after impressing during a young drivers test in Jerez. The Frenchman was made Ferrari test driver in 2010, replacing a trio of veterans in the position with Giancarlo Fisichella, Luca Badoer and Marc Gene having previously fulfilled that function.

After driving in practice sessions for Force India in 2012, Bianchi landed his first F1 seat in 2013, driving for Marussia, and steered the struggling team to a top-10 finish at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. Bianchi was tragically killed at the Japanese Grand Prix later that year when his car collided with a recovery vehicle.

 

Sergio Perez

Perez was part of the academy at the same time as Bianchi and is now one of the most experienced drivers on the F1 grid. The Mexican was given a drive with Sauber only a year into his time with Ferrari and was released from the programme in 2012 after being snapped up by McLaren for the 2013 campaign.

He is entering his seventh consecutive season with Racing Point, formerly known as the Force India team, and boasts eight podium finishes from his 176 race starts. Of the 2019 grid, only Nico Hulkenberg had started more races without picking up a victory.

Lance Stroll

Perez's team-mate at Racing Point is another academy graduate in the form of Lance Stroll. Stroll was only 11 years old when he joined the programme in 2010 - the same year as Perez - and Williams spotted his potential when they took him on board as a test driver for 2016.

The Canadian won the Formula 3 European Championship that year and was promoted to a race seat with Williams for the following campaign. Stroll's father, Lawrence, is part of the consortium that bought Force India and, as widely expected, he made it a family affair with the team in 2019 and will return this year.

 

Antonio Giovinazzi

Giovinazzi is the first member of this list who is still a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and in 2019 he got his first real taste of F1.

The Italian did contest the first two races of 2017 for Sauber in the absence of the injured Pascal Wehrlein, but the seat was his for last season and he could not have asked for better mentor to drive alongside, with Kimi Raikkonen - drivers' champion with Ferrari in 2007 - having returned to the team for 2019.

Giovinazzi struggled to 17th with Alfa Romeo in 2019, but will have been buoyed by a fifth-place finish in Brazil that he will hope gives him momentum this year as he returns with Raikkonen.

 

Charles Leclerc

Leclerc is now the example all young drivers in Ferrari's academy can aspire to, and proof that the system works.

The Monegasque driver tested for Haas and Sauber in his first two years on the programme and, after an impressive 10 top-10 finishes for the latter in his first full season on the grid, he was chosen by Ferrari to succeed Raikkonen as team-mate to four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

That put Leclerc in a competitive car for 2019 despite only having a year of senior F1 experience under his belt and he delivered emphatically.

Leclerc finished above Vettel in the drivers' championship as he won two races and racked up seven pole positions, more than anyone else on the grid.

He was rewarded with a new five-year contract that puts Vettel's future on an uncertain footing heading into the 2020 campaign.

Ferrari have paused their Formula One operations for the next 21 days after motorsport chiefs ordered all teams to take their shutdown break before the delayed season can begin.

F1 teams were told on Wednesday they must take a three-week break in March and April, when all racing has been suspended due to coronavirus.

Grid giants Ferrari have opted to immediately seize the opportunity to shut down for that span, saying they "fully support" the decision by F1 and motorsport's world governing body the FIA.

"Scuderia Ferrari will therefore be shut as from tomorrow, Thursday 19 March, up to Thursday 8 April inclusive," the Italian team said.

"The priority for the team has always been the safety of its employees and their families, which is why, for several days now work in the Maranello facility has been suspended, replaced where possible by a smart working system."

Italy remains Europe's worst-hit nation by the COVID-19 pandemic, having suffered more than 2,900 deaths.

F1 races in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam and China have been postponed already this season, with no prospect of competition beginning until May at the earliest.

By moving the traditional mid-season break and asking teams to instead down tools in the coming weeks, F1 hope some of the postponed races may be able to take place on vacant August weekends. August 9, 16 and 23 currently are blank on the F1 calendar.

Ferrari's statement added: "We are just as disappointed as our fans that we cannot be racing, as we have done for over 70 years, but when confronted by a situation as serious as this one, it is vital that we follow the advice of the authorities and limit all activities as much as possible in order to contain the virus as efficiently as possible.

"We will wait for the situation to improve so that we can return to normality, in our daily lives as well as in sport, including motor racing. In the meantime, our thoughts are with everyone affected by the virus and those working on the front line to combat it. Maintaining our distance, but still united, this virus can be defeated."

Formula One CEO Chase Carey apologised to fans for the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and pledged to resume the 2020 season as soon as possible in an open letter released on Tuesday.

The F1 season was due to resume this past weekend with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, however it was cancelled in the wake of McLaren withdrawing following one of their crew members testing positive for COVID-19.

Races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China have had to be temporarily shelved as well, leaving F1 with a revised start date of May 3.

Ross Brawn, F1's managing director of motorsports, has since suggested the postponed races could take place in August when the season typically takes a four-week break.

Carey was unable to offer much of an update given the "fluidity" of the situation, but he stressed F1 will resume at the earliest possible opportunity.

In an open letter published to the F1 website, Carey wrote: "We wanted to provide some thoughts and perspectives from last week as we address the coronavirus pandemic.

"First and foremost, our priority is the health and safety of the fans, teams, and organisations of Formula One, as well as wider society.

"We apologise to those fans affected by the cancellation in Australia, as well as the postponement of the other races to date. These decisions are being made by Formula One, the FIA, and our local promoters in rapidly changing and evolving circumstances, but we believe they are the right and necessary ones. We also want to extend our thoughts to those already affected, including those in the Formula One family.

"We recognise everyone wants to know what comes next for Formula One in 2020. We cannot provide specific answers today given the fluidity of the situation. However, we plan to get the 2020 Championship season underway as soon as it's safe to do so.

"We are engaging with experts and officials on a daily basis as we evaluate how we go forward in the next few months."

Ross Brawn said races could be staged during August as part of a reshuffle of the 2020 Formula One calendar. 

The season is currently scheduled to start on May 3 with the Dutch Grand Prix, after races in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam and China were cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Brawn, F1's managing director of motorsports, said the four-week period in August - when the season typically takes a break - could be used to reschedule missed races. 

"Maybe we take a hiatus, we take a pause, and then we use that opportunity to say, 'Right, for this time at the beginning of the year we won't have any races, we'll look at relocating those races later in the year’," he told Sky Sports. 

"I think by freeing up the August break, we give ourselves several weekends where we can have a race. And I think we can build a pretty decent calendar for the rest of the year. 

"It will look different, but it will still preserve a good number of races, and they're exciting races. So, the season's going to start later, but I think it will be just as entertaining." 

The organisers of the Dutch and Spanish Grands Prix are in consultation with F1 and motorsport governing body the FIA, with the end of May said to be a more likely target for hosting those events. 

Brawn offered a positive outlook on the chances of completing the season, despite admitting the sport is in "unchartered territory". 

He said: "I'm pretty optimistic that we can have a good 17-to-18-race championship or more. 

"I think we can squeeze them in. But it depends on when the season will start." 

Formula One champion and Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton should not join Ferrari, according to former chief Bernie Ecclestone.

Hamilton is in the final year of his Mercedes deal and the six-time F1 world champion continues to be linked with a move to rivals Ferrari.

The 35-year-old driver – whose title defence has been put on hold after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was cancelled due to coronavirus – is in no hurry to hold negotiations, while Mercedes are relaxed amid the speculation.

Ex-F1 supremo Ecclestone does not believe Hamilton should swap Mercedes for Ferrari at the end of the 2020 season.

"If I were Lewis I would stay at Mercedes," Ecclestone, 89, told the Daily Mail.

"He is comfortable there. He is in charge. He's got the guy who turns the lights on and off supporting him [team principal Toto Wolff].

"It wouldn't work at Ferrari for him. They are Italians. He would have to really learn the language so he'd know what they were saying behind his back, for a start.

"The problem with all the Italians, they don't want a fight, don't want an argument with anyone. Instead of saying to someone who is doing a bad job, 'Sort yourself out or I'll sort you out — please yourself, but I want results,' they say, 'Let's have dinner so we can talk about it. Be friends'.

"If I were a team boss I'd sign Max [Verstappen from Red Bull]. He's quick and easy to deal with. If I had Lewis I'd just tell him what time the next race starts and say be there for then. Apart from that he could do whatever he wants.

"I'd cut his pay and let him do his own sponsorship, anything. Mercedes try to rein him in a bit. I'd give him total freedom."

 

Lewis Hamilton will begin the defence of his Formula One drivers' title as the 2020 campaign gets under way with the Australian Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Hamilton is a six-time world champion and now within one crown of tying Michael Schumacher for the all-time record of seven.

The race in Australia, which begins at 16:10 local time (05:10 GMT) on Sunday, will be the first chance to assess the prospects of the top teams and drivers at the start of the final season before sweeping changes are made to the regulations.

Chief competition for Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas is again expected to come from Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, plus Red Bull, whose lead driver Max Verstappen is partnered by Alex Albon.
 

LAST TIME OUT

This is the first race for more than three months, with the last event of the 2019 season having been the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.

That grand prix was one of the least exciting of the campaign and saw Hamilton crown his title success with a dominant race victory, winning from pole position with Verstappen and Leclerc making up the remaining podium places.

Bottas charged through from the back of the grid to finish fourth, ahead of Vettel and Albon.
 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN AUSTRALIA

While pre-season testing provides a guide, no one truly knows where each team stands with their 2020 cars until we have seen them in full competitive action.

We should get the clearest idea yet of where Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari sit in the pecking order, and how significant the gaps are, with the title contenders eager to strike an early blow in the first of 22 races.

Further down the grid, McLaren are hoping to push on from their fourth-place finish last year as they retain their driver line-up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Renault will hope for better in their second season with Daniel Ricciardo, who will be partnered at his home race by new arrival Esteban Ocon, and Racing Point want to be in the mix.

Since his last win in Australia, Hamilton has finished second in four straight races at Albert Park. Former team-mate Nico Rosberg and current partner Bottas have won two of those races, with Vettel triumphing in 2017 and 2018 for Ferrari.


TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Another record in sight - Hamilton has a record eight pole positions in Australia, including the last six in a row from 2014 to 2019. If he reaches nine, he will be the first F1 driver in history to hit that level at a single circuit.

Fantastic four - Vettel is one win away from equalling Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most wins in Australia (four). If the German wins, he would equal his total for all of last season (one win).

Can he go back to back? - Bottas, the winner of last year's race, is hoping to win for a second time at the same Grand Prix, a feat he is yet to achieve in his F1 career.

Five years on - Race day will mark exactly five years since Verstappen's first F1 race, which also took place in Australia.

No home glory - An Australian driver has never won, been in pole position, or reached the podium in 35 editions of this Formula One Grand Prix.

Formula One bosses have explained that they reached a settlement with Ferrari over their engine case as they feared they would not be able to prove any wrongdoing.

Last week, the FIA said an agreement was reached with the Scuderia over a long-running analysis into their 2019 power unit amid questions raised by the car's impressive straight-line speed.

Ferrari always denied any wrongdoing but a collection of seven rival teams released a joint statement to voice a "strong objection".

Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Racing Point, Alpha Tauri and Williams co-signed the letter. Haas and Alfa Romeo – who both use Ferrari engines – did not sign.

The seven teams said they were "surprised and shocked" by the FIA's decision to reach a private settlement with Ferrari.

Motorsport's governing body has since released a statement to explain why they did not pursue the investigation into the power unit any further.

It said: "The FIA has conducted detailed technical analysis on the Scuderia Ferrari Power Unit as it is entitled to do for any competitor in the FIA Formula One World Championship.

"The extensive and thorough investigations undertaken during the 2019 season raised suspicions that the Scuderia Ferrari PU could be considered as not operating within the limits of the FIA regulations at all times.

"The Scuderia Ferrari firmly opposed the suspicions and reiterated that its PU always operated in compliance with the regulations. The FIA was not fully satisfied but decided that further action would not necessarily result in a conclusive case due to the complexity of the matter and the material impossibility to provide the unequivocal evidence of a breach.

"To avoid the negative consequences that a long litigation would entail especially in light of the uncertainty of the outcome of such litigations and in the best interest of the Championship and of its stakeholders, the FIA, in compliance with Article 4 (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules (JDR), decided to enter into an effective and dissuasive settlement agreement with Ferrari to terminate the proceedings.

"This type of agreement is a legal tool recognised as an essential component of any disciplinary system and is used by many public authorities and other sport federations in the handling of disputes.

"The confidentiality of the terms of the settlement agreement is provided for by Article 4 (vi) of the JDR."

Seven Formula One teams have joined forces to oppose the FIA's decision to reach a private settlement with Ferrari over an investigation into their 2019 engine.

Last week, motorsport's governing body said an agreement was reached with the Scuderia over a long-running analysis into the outfit's power unit amid questions raised by the car's impressive straight-line speed.

Ferrari always denied any wrongdoing but a collection of rival teams released a joint statement to voice a "strong objection".

Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Racing Point, Alpha Tauri and Williams co-signed the letter. Haas and Alfa Romeo – who both use Ferrari engines – did not sign.

The teams say they are exploring the next steps, which could involve legal action to ensure "full and proper disclosure" from the FIA. 

"We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA's statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit," the statement read.

"An international sporting regulator has the responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency.

"After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.

"Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula One.

"In addition, we reserve our rights to seek legal redress, within the FIA's due process and before the competent courts."

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes broke down on day two of Formula One pre-season testing in Barcelona.

The six-time F1 world champion's W11 ground to a halt during the afternoon session at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Thursday.

Hamilton had to wait at the side of the track as the red flags were waved before his car was taken back to the garage.

Mercedes tweeted: "W11 is back in the garage. The team will now take a look to identify the issue which caused Lewis to stop on track."

The team later revealed Hamilton's car was troubled by "an oil pressure anomaly".

"@LewisHamilton stopped on track due to an oil pressure anomaly, which made the engine shut down as a precautionary measure," Mercedes said on Twitter.

"We will keep investigating further but unfortunately that concludes our running for the day."

The malfunction occurred just a fortnight before Hamilton starts the defence of his title at the Australian Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel topped the leaderboard in the morning session after spinning into the gravel, while Red Bull driver Max Verstappen spun twice.

Hamilton was seventh-fastest on day one of testing after clocking up 89 laps.

Charles Leclerc's rise at Ferrari has put Sebastian Vettel in a challenging and difficult situation for the 2020 season, according to Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg, the only man apart from Lewis Hamilton to win a Formula One world championship since the last of Vettel's four titles in 2013, believes his fellow German's struggles pre-date the 2019 campaign.

But the sensational debut Ferrari season from Leclerc has brought the future of Vettel into the spotlight, with his contract having only a year left to run.

Leclerc earned seven pole positions and two race wins last year to finish ahead of his more experienced team-mate, who has just one victory in his last 29 attempts, in the drivers' standings.

Rosberg feels if anyone can bounce back from such a predicament it is a driver of Vettel's calibre, but he acknowledged how tough the situation is for the 32-year-old.

"We must not forget that he also had a very tricky 2018, so it is not just last year, it has been a string of years now," Rosberg, Heineken's 'When You Drive, Never Drink' ambassador, told Stats Perform.

"It's not an easy situation for him because he is such a great driver.

"He is also one of the best of all time, but now he is finding himself in a very challenging situation with an unbelievably fast young team-mate, who is also getting more and more support internally from his team.

"So it is really a difficult one for Sebastian, but if one guy can do it and bounce back from that, then it is him, because he has all the confidence, all the experience, he has the speed."

Rosberg feels one of the most significant storylines to watch this season will be how Ferrari manage the rivalry between their two drivers.

Tension over team strategy developed between them over the course of 2019, culminating in a Brazil collision that caused a double retirement. 

"It is so exciting to see how that is going to play out internally," added Rosberg.

"It is going to be hugely challenging for Ferrari to manage that because last year it was much easier. It was very clear - Sebastian was the number one and Charles was the number-two driver. 

"As soon as that started to be debated internally, that is when the problems started, around Monza. Both will be equal number-ones in the team going into the season and that is going to be super interesting to watch."

Looking ahead to this year's title race, Rosberg - the 2016 world champion - tipped Leclerc and Max Verstappen to challenge strongly, adding: "The biggest threat [to Hamilton] really depends on the cars.

"I believe that Red Bull and Ferrari really might step it up this year and go on level playing terms with Mercedes. That would be amazing, we would be glued to the TV, it would be so cool – and it is possible.

"If that's the case, then the biggest threats - looking at last year - will be Verstappen and Leclerc, but you definitely cannot count out [Valtteri] Bottas and Vettel either."

Rosberg was speaking following the launch of Heineken's 'When You Drive, Never Drink' campaign, for which he has starred in a TV commercial alongside his father, fellow F1 world champion Keke Rosberg.

"It was such a huge pleasure to do the filming with my dad," said Nico Rosberg, who has been a road safety ambassador for several years.

"And then integrated into that we have the total abstinence message to help save lives, because total abstinence is the only way to do it. One drink is already one drink too much [if you are driving].

"The latest campaign conveys a really powerful message that, regardless of whether you’re a professional driver or not, abstinence behind the wheel is the only option."

World champion Lewis Hamilton showed ominous speed in his Mercedes on day one of testing for the new Formula One season in Barcelona.

The British driver led a Mercedes one-two on the time sheets as Valtteri Bottas was second quickest, while Ferrari's plans were hindered when Sebastian Vettel pulled out of the session through illness.

Hamilton came to Barcelona from Berlin, after being voted a world sportsman of the year at the Laureus Awards, and the six-time F1 drivers' championship winner was swiftly up to pace in the new W11 model.

He clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 16.976 seconds, which put him 0.377secs clear of Bottas and 0.399s ahead of Racing Point's Sergio Perez.

Another title this season would see 35-year-old Hamilton match German great Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven triumphs.

Charles Leclerc was down in 11th place for Ferrari but put in 131 laps in the new SF1000 car as the Monegasque driver went it alone for the Italian team, with Vettel sidelined.

Hamilton completed 94 laps in the afternoon, with Bottas notching up 79 in the morning, but their combined total of 173 laps for Mercedes was almost passed single-handedly by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who achieved 168 circuits.

Verstappen span off the track twice during the afternoon. Alex Albon will take the wheel of the Red Bull on Thursday.

"It's been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break," said Hamilton. "So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.

"We will just take it one step at a time, getting good feedback from the car. We have a lot of data to download and analyse and we’ve got to keep pushing on."

The first race of the 2020 season takes place in Melbourne, with the Australian Grand Prix scheduled for March 15.

Sebastian Vettel must rise to the challenge in 2020 to ensure he can prolong his Formula One career, according to David Coulthard.

The Ferrari driver is under pressure going into the new season after being outshone by new team-mate Charles Leclerc last year.

Four-time world champion Vettel last claimed the drivers' championship in 2013, with his Ferrari seat more vulnerable than that of Leclerc, who has signed a new long-term deal.

Coulthard believes the 32-year-old's quality is beyond doubt but fears for his career if he underperforms in 2020.

"He's a class driver, you don't win those championships without being so," Coulthard said to Omnisport about Vettel.

"We have seen in previous years, his last year at Red Bull, he lost a bit of consistency and performance, but he was able to bounce back at Ferrari alongside Kimi Raikkonen. 

"Let's see if he can bounce back this year. It's in his hands. We know Charles is fast, we know he's able to get those qualifying results and race results, but Seb is a four-time world champion. 

"This year is a very important year for him to establish if we will see more of him."

Coulthard is concerned Vettel would not have another realistic option if the Italian team opt not to retain him.

"I just don't see where he could go logically at the level of expectation in terms of salary and what-have-you," added Coulthard.

"Red Bull seem quite set in their programme. McLaren have two young drivers. Mercedes, they don't need him. So, I think it's a little bit like Fernando Alonso, even if they want to race there isn't the opportunity for them." 

Coulthard ended his F1 career at Red Bull and is hoping to see Max Verstappen challenge defending champion Lewis Hamilton for title glory this season, even if the Briton remains the favourite.

On the title race, he said: "Easy money is to say Hamilton at Mercedes but I think it's absolutely possible on paper for the world champion to come from Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes. 

"I would love to see Max really challenge for the championship. He's got speed, he's got commitment, he's got a young, devil-may-care attitude. 

"He's a breath of fresh air because he's also very open, very honest, and not kind of aloof and standing off. So I think he would be a great champion.

"Mercedes have done an exceptional job, but we can see that Ferrari have come up over the last couple of years to being real contenders and Red Bull in their new partnership with Honda are getting a few victories.

"Those three teams can be challenging for, certainly race victories, and possibly the championships."

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