Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest overall time in the opening practice session of the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix as the German sought to reignite his flagging challenge for the Drivers’ Championship title.

The Ferrari driver, who trails Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by 40 points and desperately needs to get his title fight back on track with victory this weekend, narrowly edged Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by just five-hundredths of a second in the final reckoning.

While Verstappen’s pace was impressive, neither he nor teammate Daniel Ricciardo (who was fifth-fastest but lost track time with a smoky mechanical drama) will pose much of a threat this weekend given both drivers – along with their fellow drivers in the sister Scuderia Toro Rosso team and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – will start from the back of the grid thanks to engine change penalties.

Vettel’s chief rival Hamilton was third-fastest, just three-tenths of a second back having opted – unlike Vettel – not to run on the ultra-grippy Hypersoft tyre during the session. His teammate and defending Russian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas was an encouraging fourth-fastest.

With Ricciardo fifth-fastest despite limited mileage, Force India’s Esteban Ocon broke into the top-six and pipped Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen by less than three-hundredths of a second.

Kevin Magnussen celebrated his re-signing with the Haas F1 Team by placing eighth on the timesheets ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg.

Sauber opted to give its 2019 signing Antonio Giovinazzi some more track time ahead of the Italian’s full-time F1 debut next year. The 2016 GP2 Series runner-up acquitted himself well and finished the session tenth-fastest, four places ahead of Charles Leclerc.

Sauber was among four teams to rest one of its regular drivers this session. Like the Swiss team, McLaren opted to give its 2019 signing Lando Norris another hit-out in the MCL33 in place of Fernando Alonso. The British driver finish 13th-fastest, two spots ahead of fellow Formula 2 race-winner Artem Markelov who was making his first FP1 outing on home soil for the Renault team in place of McLaren-bound Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fellow F2 race-winner Nicholas Latifi had his third FP1 outing of the 2018 season for Force India. The Canadian finished the session seventeenth-fastest, replacing regular driver Sergio Pérez.


FORMULA 1 2018 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 TIMES
Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:34.488 19
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 1:34.538 + 0.050 22
3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:34.818 + 0.330 23
4. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:34.999 + 0.511 28
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 1:35.524 + 1.036 11
6. Esteban Ocon Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:35.663 + 1.175 24
7. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:35.696 + 1.208 19
8. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:36.196 + 1.708 21
9. Nico Hülkenberg Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:36.274 + 1.786 18
10. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:36.712 + 2.224 22
11. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:36.816 + 2.328 23
12. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:36.944 + 2.456 25
13. Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:37.022 + 2.534 25
14. Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:37.054 + 2.566 24
15. Artem Markelov Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:37.183 + 2.695 22
16. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:37.187 + 2.699 27
17. Nicholas Latifi Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:37.206 + 2.718 24
18. Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:37.225 + 2.737 25
19. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:37.944 + 3.456 28
20. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:39.137 + 4.649 13

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.
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