Valtteri Bottas continued Mercedes’ record of having led every session at the Circuit Paul Ricard since 2018, the Finn comfortably topping Free Practice 1 of the French Grand Prix weekend from team mate Lewis Hamilton, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took third in an incident-filled opening session.
Bottas stopped the clocks with a 1m 33.448s – a time around three seconds slower than his FP2-topping time from 2019, the last time we came to the Circuit Paul Ricard – with Bottas finishing a full 0.335s over Hamilton, in what would have been a refreshing tonic for the Finn after he finished the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in a lowly P12.
Bottas, using a new W12 chassis this weekend, was also 0.432s ahead of Verstappen, Mercedes seeming to have the early advantage over Red Bull as F1 returns to a more conventional circuit, with Verstappen complaining of a lack of front end turn-in on his RB16B – while Verstappen’s team mate and Baku winner Sergio Perez was a further three-tenths back in P4.
FORMULA 1 EMIRATES GRAND PRIX DE FRANCE 2021
Practice 1 results
|1 Valtteri BOTTAS Mercedes||1:33.448|
|2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes||+0.335s|
|3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing||+0.432s|
|4 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing||+0.745s|
|5 Esteban OCON Alpine||+0.881s|
There was a spin within one minute of the lights going green at Paul Ricard, with Haas’ Mick Schumacher rotating his VF-21 at Turn 3 and lightly nerfing the wall.
And it proved to be the first of many incidents in FP1, Sebastian Vettel with the biggest moment when he spun his car backwards into the wall at Turn 11 – while there would also be off-track moments at Turn 2 for Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Kimi Raikkonen, Verstappen and Bottas, while Yuki Tsunoda also spun at Turn 15.
When the dust had settled from all that off-track action, it was newly re-signed Alpine driver Esteban Ocon who claimed an impressive fifth, just over a tenth off Perez, while McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo took sixth.
Fernando Alonso confirmed the pace of the Alpine at their home race by taking P7, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Gasly in eighth and the second McLaren and second AlphaTauri of Lando Norris and Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.
Charles Leclerc complained of struggling with his Ferrari SF21, leaving the Baku polesitter P11, ahead of the Alfa Romeo pairing of Antonio Giovinazzi and Raikkonen, followed by the Aston Martin duo of Lance Stroll and Vettel.
Sainz’s spin at Turn 2 did a neat job of ruining a set of his soft tyres, leaving the Spaniard down in P16 ahead of the leading Williams of Nicholas Latifi. Nikita Mazepin led the way for Haas, some six-tenths ahead of Schumacher, while Williams’ Roy Nissany – in for George Russell in FP1 – rounded out the timesheets.
So, Mercedes look to be back on form as we got back to the more conventional environs of the Circuit Paul Ricard. But it’s early days yet, so let’s see how the order stacks up once we get to the crucial qualifying simulations of Free Practice 2.