Mercedes heads opening practice in Russia

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas has topped an uneventful opening practice session for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.

The Finn headed a Mercedes one-two, Lewis Hamilton 0.2s down on his team-mate with Max Verstappen just 0.01s slower in third.

It was a comparatively busy start to proceedings with all but Verstappen on track inside the opening 10 minutes.

Charles Leclerc, who will cop a grid penalty this weekend due to a new power unit in his Ferrari, headed proceedings early on a set of soft tyres.

He was the only one out on the red-walled tyres, his 1:36.708s, some 0.4s clear of second best Bottas.

The Finn improved to a 1:36.412s on the hard compound tyres, followed by Hamilton who rose to second with a 1:36.685s.

Verstappen’s early laps were completed on the soft compound rubber, recording a best of 1:37.367s to sit seventh best approaching 15 minutes into the session.

The Dutchman then improved to go quickest on 1:36.065s.

It preceded a switch to the soft tyres for Mercedes, with both Bottas and Hamilton heading out on the red walled rubber.

Rain is predicted throughout Saturday, reducing teams’ need for the softest compound of tyre in qualifying.

Bottas promptly improved to 1:34.427s, a more than a second faster than Verstappen had managed.

Hamilton was unable to match his team-mate’s pace, posting a 1:34.638s while Leclerc went third best on a 1:35.117s.

With 23 minutes to run, a Virtual Safety Car was called when debris was spotted near the pit exit, though it’s interruption was comparatively brief.

Verstappen bolted on a set of new soft compound tyres for another flying lap simulation with 16 minutes remaining in the session.

A personal best opening to the lap was followed by a sessions-best middle sector, only to see him 0.227s shy of Bottas’ earlier effort to sit third best.

The time loss to the Mercedes came in the opening third of the lap, suggesting a higher downforce setup or lower engine mode for Red Bull.

In the closing minutes, Bottas and Hamilton swapped to the hard compound tyres, the order largely unchanged as focus switched to longer runs.

That resulted with a Mercedes one-two, Bottas over Hamilton with Verstappen third.

The Red Bull managed just 13 laps throughout the session, the fewest of anyone, with his car on stands as the chequered flag fell.

Charles Leclerc was fourth best ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly, Sainz, Lando Norris, Sergio Perez, and Fernando Alonso rounding out the top 10.

Daniel Ricciardo was 14th best, his fastest lap a 1:36.877s despite logging 23 laps.

The field was covered by 4.5s, Mick Schumacher at the foot of the timing screens 0.4s down on Haas team-mate Nikita Mazepin.

Practice 2 is scheduled to get underway at 22:00 AEST this evening.

Results: Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, Free Practice 1

Pos Num Driver Team Time Diff Laps
1 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:34.427 25
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.638 +0.211s 23
3 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:34.654 +0.227s 13
4 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:35.117 +0.690s 22
5 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:35.781 +1.354s 23
6 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:35.794 +1.367s 24
7 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:35.811 +1.384s 25
8 4 Lando Norris McLaren 1:35.959 +1.532s 24
9 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:36.188 +1.761s 22
10 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:36.225 +1.798s 21
11 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:36.236 +1.809s 25
12 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:36.522 +2.095s 21
13 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:36.795 +2.368s 23
14 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:36.877 +2.450s 23
15 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:36.952 +2.525s 20
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:37.794 +3.367s 26
17 63 George Russell Williams 1:38.013 +3.586s 23
18 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:38.155 +3.728s 21
19 9 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:38.586 +4.159s 22
20 47 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:38.977 +4.550s 23

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