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Formula One

FP1: Mercedes Head Red Bull in Austrian Opener

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It may be Red Bull’s home circuit, but it was Mercedes who led the way in Friday’s first Spielberg practice, with Lewis Hamilton heading team mate Valtteri Bottas. Max Verstappen was hot on their heels, though – just two-tenths down on the world champion.

Hamilton was 0.127s quicker than Bottas, with both drivers seemingly getting a better performance from their respective Silver Arrow following the engine upgrade Mercedes introduced at Circuit Paul Ricard last week and the major new aero upgrade added here.

Verstappen was just two tenths behind the pacesetter in third, while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who will be keen to keep his nose clean after a tough race in France, finished in P4. The sister RB14 of Daniel Ricciardo edged Vettel’s team mate Kimi Rakkonen for fifth, the Australian getting the better of the Finn after losing out on a podium in Le Castellet.

As the threatened rain held off, Verstappen and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc both survived spins, while McLaren are the subject of a stewards’ investigation after Stoffel Vandoorne appeared to be released into the path of Vettel in the pit lane.

Romain Grosjean once again enjoyed a positive FP1, coming home seventh to ensure Haas were the fourth-best team in this first 90 minutes of running. His team mate Kevin Magnussen, who on Thursday said he was ‘proud’ of his team’s performance this season, was five places back in 12th.

Less than a tenth of a second behind Grosjean was Esteban Ocon, another driver perhaps hoping for better luck this weekend following his opening-lap crash last time out. Indeed, it was a double DNF for Force India in France as Sergio Perez was forced to retire too, and the Mexican endured a slow start in Austria by coming home P14.

Another solid performer was Leclerc, who despite spinning, continues to impress in his maiden Formula 1 season. The Ferrari protege was ninth, with team mate Marcus Ericsson two places further back on a good morning for the Swiss squad.

It was Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly who split the Sauber pair, with the Frenchman making up the top ten, though Brendon Hartley seemed to have another difficult session, all the way down in 19th. The Italian team have introduced a new aero package in Austria, so it will be interesting to see the progress they make.

Renault, perhaps surprisingly, had a quiet afternoon, with Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in 13th and 15th respectively. Having said that, it was a similar story last weekend, and then Sainz ultimately went on to secure an eighth-placed finish in the race.

In one Williams, Lance Stroll showed slow signs of progress with a P16. However in the sister FW41, Robert Kubica, who was driving in place of Sergey Sirotkin for this opening session, took the unwanted honour of finishing bottom.

Another team struggling this season is McLaren, and this opening session suggests they may once again endure a tricky Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished 17th and 18th for the Woking team, and it remains to be seen if they’ll make any progress in Spielberg.

So what can we look forward to in FP2? Mercedes may have been quickest, but at the Red Bull Ring the team of the same name weren’t far behind…

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