Carlos Sainz topped the timesheets ahead of Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc in the first free practice at the Australian Grand Prix as the Formula One cars took to the revamped Albert Park circuit for the first time in three years.

Sainz posted a lap of one minute and 19.806 seconds, more than half a second quicker than championship leader Leclerc on a sunny day at the lakeside circuit.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez was third quickest ahead of world champion Max Verstappen in an eventful session that had to be halted twice.

Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who missed the first two races after a positive Covid-19 test, was 13th fastest on his return to the track but his Aston Martin lost power and ground to a halt 15 minutes before the end of the session, with smoke billowing out of the rear.

The German grabbed a fire extinguisher from a track marshal and gave his car a spray to put out the fire.
Vettel later delighted fans by riding back to the team garage on a borrowed scooter, prompting an investigation by stewards for entering the track illegally.

It was the second red flag of the session, with the first having come out some 20 minutes in to clean up some body-work debris left by Perez's car.

It was an encouraging session for struggling McLaren, with Lando Norris fifth fastest and home hero Daniel Ricciardo eighth.

Mercedes, who have had major trouble with their 'porpoising' car in the first races, came in with low expectations and duly confirmed them. Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh quickest and George Russell 12th.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen missed his morning media conference after suffering nausea overnight but emerged onto the track to take a skid into gravel after locking up at turn three.

He was 18th quickest out of the 20 cars.

Stewards said they would investigate an impeding incident between Sainz and Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu early in the session.

"What is he doing? Fully blocked me," Zhou said on the team radio.

Stewards said they would also investigate an impeding incident involving Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll and Magnussen.