Alonso quickest but rain strikes Melbourne

Fernando Alonso was quickest in a rain-hit second practice session at the Australian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso was quickest in a rain-hit second practice session at the Australian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso set the pace in second practice for the Australian Grand Prix, albeit in a rain-hit session at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

The Aston Martin driver finished the hour-long outing with a leading time of one minute 18.887s, but that was in the opening laps before the rain arrived and on the medium-compound tyres.

The two-time F1 champion’s lap was 0.097s slower than the best of the day from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in FP1 on a set of softs.

The weather that struck FP2 meant no driver was able to get in a soft-tyre lap, as would normally be the case during the first 30 minutes or so before switching to long runs over the second half of the session.

Naturally, with rain approaching, it sparked a flurry of early sighter laps from 19 of the 20-car field once the pit lane opened.

Logan Sargeant was the only driver unable to venture out due to an electrical issue in his Williams that forced him onto the sidelines at the end of FP1 and confined him to the garage for all of FP2.

It was not long before Alonso set what proved to be the benchmark time, albeit one that should have been shattered by Sergio Perez in his Red Bull.

The Mexican driver was four-tenths of a second up on Alonso through the first two sectors but was forced to back out after encountering traffic in the final third of the 5.278km circuit, resulting in a moan over the radio to his team.

Reigning champion Verstappen, who was quickest in FP1 despite a spin, was forced across the grass at Turn 1 soon after, and then a few minutes later held up Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, much to the latter’s obvious annoyance.

With Alonso almost half-a-second clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Verstappen a further 0.160s adrift, 13 minutes in the expected rain duly arrived.

It eventually forced all drivers back into the pits, although not before the soft-tyre shod Lando Norris in his McLaren skipped across the gravel at Turn 1 after hitting a damp patch.

The lightness of the rain sparked a lull, with the track too dry for intermediates and not dry enough for slicks.

Bizarrely, though, just before the half-hour mark, Mercedes’ George Russell ventured out on inters, whilst Ferrari pair Sainz and Leclerc took to the circuit on softs.

It led to Russell remarking that to be “a surprise”, and so it proved as, after a couple of laps, the Ferraris were forced back into the pits.

As Leclerc commented: “There’s no point driving like this!”

It was not long before heavier rain started to fall, at least sparking a flurry of drivers to take to the track with the green-striped tyres.

The rain did relent with about 10 minutes remaining but there was not enough time for any driver to venture back out on slicks.

It ensured Alonso finished quickest ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen, Russell and Sainz, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon sixth quickest, followed by Perez, Norris, Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, and Pierre Gasly in his Alpine rounding out the top 10, 1.319s adrift.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, second quickest in FP1, was down in 13th for FP2, 1.436s down and a place ahead of local hero Oscar Piastri in his McLaren.

Kevin Magnussen was the slowest of the 19 to set a time, 2.379s down in his Haas.

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