FP1: Verstappen splits Ferraris as Leclerc tops Sochi opener
Ferrari were denied a 1-2 in Friday’s first practice session for the Russian Grand Prix, as Max Verstappen split leader Charles Leclerc and third-place Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull driver was just 0.082s off Leclerc at the finish, Vettel another half-second behind.
Leclerc, adamant he’ll learn from a Singapore Grand Prix in which he lost out to his team mate, set the fastest lap of the session – 1m 34.462s – with half an hour remaining and was ultimately 0.543s quicker than Vettel. The top three set their quickest times on soft tyres, but Mercedes opted for longer stints on mediums.
As a result of their tyre choice the Silver Arrows finished P4 and P5, led by Valtteri Bottas, who set a fastest lap 0.736s slower than Leclerc’s, with Lewis Hamilton another two-tenths behind.
Hamilton, who won the 2018 race at Sochi, was the first driver to test the run-off area at Turn 2, where bollards have created a slalom for drivers who veer off the track. Meanwhile, Bottas’s session ended just before the chequered flag flew, with an unusual rear wing failure – seemingly DRS-related – on his W10.
Red Bull’s Alex Albon was slowest of the top six, a second off the pace. He, along with FP1 runner-up and team mate Verstappen, will receive a five-place grid penalty as Honda have changed his internal combustion engine.
Renault, resurgent after the summer break with a particularly strong result at Monza, were fastest of the midfield with Nico Hulkenberg in P7 followed by Daniel Ricciardo who backed his car into the Turn 5 barriers shortly before the end. The rear-end damage looked relatively superficial, and the Australian was able to drive it back to the pits.
From Ricciardo in P8 to Alfa Romeo’s 15th-place driver Kimi Raikkonen, there was just under half a second in it. The top 10, however, was split by two seconds, Sergio Perez finishing ninth for Racing Point and Haas’s Romain Grosjean rounding out the top half of the table.
McLaren were therefore absent from the midfield battle. However, the fourth-place constructor had Lando Norris (16th) completing a long stint on hard tyres, with team mate Carlos Sainz opting to do so on mediums as he finished 11th.
Another driver to take a penalty for the race with a brand-new ICE is Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who ended the session 12th. His team mate, Daniil Kvyat, will start at the back of the grid having replaced all power unit components bar the battery.
Russian Kvyat was the sole retiree from the session, his Toro Rosso STR14 stopping early on at Turn 15 with what Team Principal Franz Tost suspected was a fuel system issue on his ‘Spec 4’ Honda power unit.
He ended the session 19th ahead of Robert Kubica, who will also start from the back on Sunday after multiple power unit element changes on his Mercedes-powered Williams.