Charles Leclerc set the early pace for Formula 1’s opening practice session for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, with fellow young-charger Max Verstappen less than a tenth behind in a promising start for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team were setting the session’s early benchmark in Sochi, with Lewis Hamilton leading team-mate Valtteri Bottas by just over a tenth of a second. Meanwhile, the Scuderia Ferrari pairing sat the best part of half a second in arrears with Leclerc the lead Scarlet car.
However, the Maranello outfit bounced back with a supreme retort to turn the tide in the weekend’s early running as Leclerc led Vettel by half a second as the Prancing Horse’s form looked ominous. With a quarter of an hour to go Verstappen broke the scarlet monopoly, with a lap time that left him eight hundredths away from his Monegasque adversary as the battle for third in the championship look sets to resume in Sochi.
Behind the leading trio Bottas lead Hamilton in a relatively subdued session for a team who has yet to taste defeat at the Sochi Olympic Park. Bottas’ session was hampered further at the last as a DRS failure curtailed his running slightly early. Furthermore, Alex Albon rounded out the top six in another quiet but pleasing session for the London-born Thai driver.
A great start for the Renault F1 Team in Sochi translated to a best of the rest seventh and eighth, with out of favour star Nico Hülkenberg leading seven-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo who clouted the wall to end an otherwise promising session for the Enstone marque . They were just ahead of Sergio Pérez in the lead SportPesa Racing Point F1 car, as Romain Grosjean performed admirably to take tenth.
Carlos Sainz Jr. was the lead McLaren F1 car in eleventh as the Woking outfit were comprehensively outperformed by rivals Renault in the weekend’s opening session, with Lando Norris a lowly sixteenth in a relatively disappointing session for the young Brit.
Pierre Gasly continued his rejuvenation at Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda, as he placed a creditable twelfth to kickstart his Sochi weekend, just ahead of the second Haas F1 car of Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll in the Racing Point.
Alfa Romeo Racing had a poor start to the session in fifteenth with Kimi Räikkönen and seventeenth with Antonio Giovinazzi. The Italian driver also spun earlier in the session to compound a mediocre start to the weekend.
George Russell continued to out-perform out-going team-mate Robert Kubica as the reigning Formula 2 champion placed eighteenth, yet the ROKit Williams pairing were split by home-favourite Daniil Kvyat, as the Russian’s Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda stopped with a little over an hour a session – adding further ire to a weekend in which he will already suffer power unit penalties.
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