Valtteri Bottas celebrated his brand new Mercedes contract for 2021 by heading the first Free Practice session of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix weekend, pipping team mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.138s, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen 0.727s behind Bottas in P3.
At a balmy Silverstone, with air temperature up around 28 degrees Celsius, British Grand Prix winner Hamilton was initially the faster of the two Mercedes. But Bottas, lapping on the C4 soft tyres which Pirelli have been brought in for this weekend, beat him on his second flying lap, eventually stopping the clocks with a 1m 26.166s, over a second quicker than Verstappen managed in FP1 at the track last week.
Verstappen’s time for third meanwhile, was just 0.049s quicker than Racing Point’s Nico Hulkenberg. It’s been quite the morning for both the driver and the team, with Hulkenberg confirmed as Sergio Perez’s replacement for this weekend two hours before the session start after another positive Covid-19 test for the Mexican – while Renault’s protest against Racing Point’s RP20 was upheld in the lead-up to FP1, costing the team €400,000 and 15 constructors’ championship points.
EMIRATES FORMULA 1 70TH ANNIVERSARY GRAND PRIX 2020
Practice 1 results
|1 Valtteri BOTTAS Mercedes||1:26.166|
|2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes||+0.138s|
|3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing||+0.727s|
|4 Nico HULKENBERG Racing Point||+0.776s|
|5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari||+0.896s|
It was therefore an especially impressive session from Hulkenberg, who took fourth while team mate Lance Stroll could only manage P8, nearly six-tenths off the German.
Between those two drivers, Charles Leclerc was fifth for Ferrari, ahead of the Red Bull of Alex Albon – who complained of understeer – and the second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champ once again looking the less comfortable of the two Scuderia drivers with the team’s low-downforce set-up on the SF1000.
Following his big crash at last weekend’s British Grand Prix – which led to a tyre barrier being installed at the exit of Maggotts – Daniil Kvyat was ninth for AlphaTauri, ahead of the Renault of Esteban Ocon in 10th.
Meanwhile, there appears to be more to come from McLaren, after the team – who had both drivers in Q3 last weekend – couldn’t crack the top 10 in FP1, Lando Norris taking P12, while Carlos Sainz was P14, with Sainz’s sparring partner from last weekend Romain Grosjean in between for Haas – and P6 to P16 covered by less than a second.
There’s probably more to come from Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo too, after the Australian, who finished P4 last weekend, could only manage P17.
Bringing up the rear of the field, meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen overcame a small off at Aintree – an off that Vettel replicated later in the session – to finish in P18, ahead of Robert Kubica, who took over the C39 of Antonio Giovinazzi this morning, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was last, after the Dane went off at Vale and flat-spotted his tyre on his push lap.
George Russell was once again the lead Williams driver in P15, just one spot in front of team mate Nicholas Latifi, as the Grove team look to try and crack Q2 for the fourth race in a row once qualifying kicks off on Saturday.
So, it’s Mercedes who, rather unsurprisingly, strike the first blow of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix weekend. But there looks to be a fascinating scrap for the second-best team brewing this weekend between Red Bull and that contentious Racing Point, with Ferrari in touching distance too judging by the evidence of FP1. Let’s see how that pans out across the rest of Friday.