The Australian posted a total of 47 laps over Friday's two practice sessions around the Albert Park street circuit, with his best time coming in the afternoon session, where a lap time of 1:23.664 was enough to secure eighth place, just 0.070s behind team-mate Nico Hülkenberg's best time.
Verstappen's attacking style and sheer pace has seen him long tipped to become a future world champion and Red Bull showed their faith with a contract that pays him only less than multiple-time world champions Hamilton and Vettel and the bumper deal Ricciardo signed with Renault.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff on Friday said he had no problem with star driver Lewis Hamilton's passion for extreme sports, despite the injury risk to such a lucrative asset. The five-time Formula One world champion laid down a marker ahead of the first race of the season in Melbourne, topping the timesheets in both sessions.
Bottas said the vehicle felt better than during testing.
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Vettel later bolted on softs and put in a lap of 1m23.473s to go fifth fastest, subsequently describing the auto as "still a bit wobbly" over the radio. "They are still the team to beat - we are just trying to improve and go as fast as we can".
"It was a tricky day for us". Hulkenberg spent more than an hour of his morning session with his auto on jacks in the garage with an electronics issue, while new teammate Ricciardo lost nearly 30 minutes of his afternoon to a technical problem before taking to the track, though both ended up in the mix at the head of the midfield as expected by the end of the day.
"If you look how close it actually is, even the mid pack is a lot closer, so I would say even more than ever before there's even less margin for error".
"I think it's really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you are getting as many points as you can, of course, but I'm not really one for needing to stamp authority".
British-born Thai debutant Alexander Albon also had a tough start, spinning his Toro Rosso at turn two and having a low-impact crash to lose his front wing and cause a brief halt in the session. He reiterated that Mercedes had plenty of "work to do" in Thursday's media conference.