Valtteri Bottas made it two out of two on Friday at the Russian Grand Prix, by topping the Second Free Practice Session from team-mate Lewis Hamilton, as they did in the opening session at the Sochi Autodrom. Pierre Gasly rounded off the top three.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team continued their domination of the Russian circuit whilst Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen lingered in sixth. However the biggest story to come out of Friday was that Verstappen would be starting the race from the back of the grid, Red Bull Racing made the decision to give the championship leader a full engine change, his fourth of the season.
Verstappen’s sixth place doesn’t necessarily correlate to his true pace, the Dutchman ran a very different programme compared to the Mercedes, due to his engine change. Verstappen and Red Bull spent the second session focusing on gathering data, to help the team setup a car which can overtake and catch the top of the field on Sunday, although the weather may play the biggest part!
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Silver Arrows, as the team’s front jackman was sent tumbling to the floor after being knocked over by Hamilton, the seven-time world champion was quick to ask the team if the jackman was okay, he thankfully was. Other than that it was the perfect afternoon for Mercedes, with only +0.044s separating Bottas and Hamilton.
The next closest to the Mercedes was the Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda of Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman had an impressive afternoon ending the day +0.252s behind Bottas, setting his fastest time on the same tyre as both Mercedes. The session ended prematurely for Gasly though after ripping off his front wing after a trip over the sausage kerbs.
Next was Lando Norris who sat half a second behind Bottas, followed by Esteban Ocon making it four teams in the top five. Verstappen rounded off the top six with his team-mate Sergio Pérez way behind in eleventh. Behind Verstappen was the leading Scuderia Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jr, who was narrowly ahead of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel who looked strong throughout Friday. Charles Leclerc who will also start from the back of the grid with an upgraded power unit was tenth.
Eleventh was then Pérez ahead of the returning Kimi Räikkönen, who missed the last two rounds with Covid. Next up was George Russell who looked strong on the opening day in Sochi, the Williams Racing driver was three places higher than team-mate Nicholas Latifi.
Fourteenth was the recently strong Antonio Giovinazzi, however the Italian who is driving for his Formula 1 career had a horrible afternoon. The Italian crashed at turn eight after losing the rear end, resulting in a nasty hit with the barrier causing a large amount of damage as his rear wing was hanging off the car. The team told Giovinazzi to stop the car due to shedding debris across the circuit, temporarily bringing out the red flag.
Lance Stroll was well of the pace in a disappointing fifteenth, with Latifi behind in sixteenth. Seventeenth was taken by Monza race winner Daniel Ricciardo who had an afternoon to forget. The Australian missed the opening half of the season after the team made an engine change due to detecting an issue with the engine in the data. Ricciardo won’t be taking a penalty for the change however after the team fitted an engine in the Australian’s allocation. The team believe the fault is repairable overnight.
Eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth was occupied by the three rookies, Yuki Tsunoda was well off the pace in eighteenth with Nikita Mazepin ending the opening day at his home grand prix ahead of his team-mate Mick Schumacher.
So an eventful first day at the Sochi Autodrom and with heavy rain forecast Saturday, today’s data gathered by the teams could be absolutely crucial. Rain or shine Mercedes will be aiming to remain the team to beat on Saturday.