Positive Friday for Verstappen in Russia as Dutchman Tops Free Practice Times

by Paul Hensby

Max Verstappen ended the first day of the Sochi Autodrom weekend with the fastest time in second practice, with the Dutchman feeling it was positive to have such a good feeling with his RB15 early on.

Verstappen had been edged out of top spot by Charles Leclerc in the opening session on Friday morning but hit top spot in the afternoon, his 1:33.162 more than three-tenths of a second better than what the Scuderia Ferrari driver could manage behind him.

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver said the car was feeling good on both compounds of tyre he utilised during the free practice sessions, and after struggling for performance last weekend in Singapore, it is good that the car seemed to come alive, particularly in the final sector.

“Today was very positive and the car worked really well on both tyres,” said Verstappen.  “We followed our own programme, tried quite a few things set-up wise and got a good balance, especially in the last sector but even the first sector with the long straight looked competitive.

“When you have a good feeling with the car it comes alive in the last sector which is really nice after the strange weekend we had in Singapore.”

Verstappen hopes Red Bull can be quick again on Saturday, even if the forecasted wet weather arrives, although he knows that wherever he qualifies he will drop five places on the grid thanks to the pre-race engine change that affected all four Honda-powered drivers.

“It looks like it may rain tomorrow so that will also mix things up but hopefully the car will also work well in those conditions,” said the Dutchman.  “We will of course try and do our best in qualifying as the five place grid penalty will be applied after the session, so it is still very important to be quick but at least you can overtake around here and if you are fast you can get to the front.

“It’s only Friday and too early to make any predictions as everyone will improve but it is a very positive start.”

Alexander Albon ended tenth fastest in the afternoon session after picking up floor damage – Credit: Charles Coates/Getty Images

Team-mate Alexander Albon ended the morning session in sixth place but floor damage in the afternoon restricted him to just eighteen laps, with the Thai driver also finding himself in an unfortunate traffic situation involving the two Mercedes AMG Motorsport drivers.

Albon was told by his engineers that Valtteri Bottas was approaching behind him and he made an effort to allow the Finn through, but he was unaware that Lewis Hamilton was close behind his team-mate, and he squeezed the Briton onto the inside kerbs at turn three.

“FP1 went well this morning but this afternoon in FP2, I got a bit of floor damage after running wide out of Turn 4 which meant we lost some running which was a shame,” insisted Albon. “That delayed things and then when we got back out it was a never-ending traffic jam with everyone on long runs so I didn’t get any clean laps in.

“I tried to stay out of trouble as best I could and I heard Bottas was just behind me but I didn’t know Lewis was right behind him and so it was my mistake to get in his way. It was just one of those things, but I wouldn’t say it was a waste of a session as there’s definitely things I learned out there.”

Albon says it is encouraging to see Verstappen at the sharp end of the grid after a less than spectacular Singapore Grand Prix, and his own confidence with the car is improving as he continues to adapt to life in a front-running team.

“It’s encouraging to see where Max is and to see the car is back to being competitive again,” said the Thai driver.  “I think the car is quick and the pace is good. I just need to work on it my side and get a cleaner run tomorrow.

“I’m building confidence with the car and this takes time, but compared to Singapore, I think we’re looking good.”

Max Verstappen was the man to beat on Friday, but can he continue the form into Saturday? Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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