'SORRY GUYS': F1 driver Alexander Albon crashes during practice

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during practice REUTERS  Thomas Peter

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during practice REUTERS Thomas Peter

He was later given the all-clear, but missed qualifying because his ruined auto could not be fixed in time.

"Let Sebastian by. Let Sebastian by", the team radio told Leclerc.

With the opportunity of securing Mercedes' third race victory of the season on Sunday, Toto Wolff will make sure his team's "rules of engagement" are left ringing in the ears of his two drivers ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.

Alex Albon started from the pits after a crash in FP3 meant he had to sit out qualifying. I had been playing around with that AstroTurf at the last corner for a while now because it's a bit quicker using that extra bit of track.

"I think I lost it in the start, honestly", said Bottas. "I had no idea that we'd have three 1-2s so early on in the season". He tried to regain control, but the auto spun around and the front left side plowed into a wall near the pit lane, scattering parts of the vehicle across the track.

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The crash for the Formula One rookie driver came in the final minutes of practice with Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes clocking the fastest time - 1 minute, 32.830 seconds.

"For the race start, I thought maybe it's going to be better with warmer tyres but it wasn't", he continued, "so once I hit the white line, I got the wheel-spin, took too long to recover it, lost a few metres of distance, and Lewis got me".

Renault's Daniel Ricciardo picked up the first points for the team this season completing the race in seventh place in a single pit stop strategy, while teammate Nico Hulkenberg was the first retirement of the race on Lap 17. While Mercedes appears to have the quicker auto over a single lap, Ferrari's superior straight-line speed could see Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc put pressure on their rivals on the kilometre-long back straight. Leclerc would have won comfortably but had an engine failure late in the race.

Polesitter Bottas made a good initial getaway, but wheelspin during the acceleration phase cost him valuable momentum and allowed Lewis Hamilton to sneak ahead on the run to the first corner.

Speaking after the race, Bottas said the start had defined his afternoon, as he explained why his getaway was not as good.

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"But I'm pulling away", responded the 21-year-old. "Clearly today we were not as fast as Mercedes", said Vettel.

Out front, a peerless Hamilton was never challenged, and on a weekend dominated by numbers, the five-time champion became the second driver in history after Michael Schumacher to lead 4,000 laps. "The auto has the pace in it to compete at the front, we just need to find the right set-up". "But (the race was) tough because we tried to stick with them but just couldn't".

Fifth was Red Bull's Max Verstappen and sixth his team-mate Pierre Gasly.

Carlos Sainz finished a further nine seconds back for McLaren in 14th, only ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi and the Williams drivers.

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