FP1: Hamilton heads Vettel in Austria, as Hulkenberg rips off front wing
The Austrian Grand Prix weekend action got underway beneath a fierce sun – and it was Lewis Hamilton who was bringing the heat in Free Practice 1, as he led the way for Mercedes, ahead of the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.
With ambient temperatures up at a toasty 28C, world championship leader Hamilton lapped the Red Bull Ring in 1m 04.838s – a few tenths adrift of his session-leading time from 12 months ago – to head Vettel by 0.144s, although the German set his best lap on medium tyres, while Hamilton was on the softs.
Last year’s polesitter Valtteri Bottas’ session begun under a cloud when an oil leak forced a switch from his new spec power unit to an old one. When he did get underway, though, the Mercedes man lapped quick enough to go third, 0.161s off Hamilton and ahead of the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc despite complaining off a bizarre brake feeling.
At their home track, Red Bull appeared to have the third fastest car for this weekend, Max Verstappen leading the way for the team in fifth, having won here in 2018, with Pierre Gasly around a tenth off in sixth.
Behind the top three teams, McLaren backed up the eyebrow-raising pace from Paul Ricard a week ago, Carlos Sainz lapping 0.664s off Hamilton’s time to claim seventh, over three tenths ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo in eighth. Sainz was the only non-top three runner to get within a second of Hamilton, although the Spaniard is set for a long Sunday, given that he’s set to start from the back of the grid after taking new power unit elements.
It was a trying end to the session for Ricciardo’s Renault team mate Nico Hulkenberg, with the German running off the track at Turn 9 in the final minutes of the session and snapping the left side of his front wing off, bringing out a red flag that the session would subsequently end under.
Hulkenberg would wind up down in P14, behind the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon, with the Thai driver, like Sainz, set for a back of the grid start after becoming the last of the Honda runners to receive the Japanese firm’s Spec 3 power unit this weekend.
Meanwhile, it was an encouraging session for Haas, with Kevin Magnussen going ninth for the American squad, while Romain Grosjean was P11, at the circuit where last year they finished the race in fourth and fifth.
At the back of the field came Williams, although the shorter Red Bull Ring lap meant that George Russell in 19th at least managed to lap within two seconds of the front-running pace, and just a few hundredths off the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in P18.