Scuderia Ferrari’s quest to win a fourth race on the trot began well at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc and teammate Sebastian Vettel finishing 1-3 on the timesheets in the opening practice session at the Sochi Autodrom.
The pair was split by Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who lapped just eight-hundredths of a second slower than Leclerc’s benchmark time of 1:34.462 posted on the Soft compound Pirelli tyres. Singapore Grand Prix winner Vettel, meanwhile, was half a second adrift of his teammate.
Leclerc, who pledged to apply the lessons from Singapore where he lost out to his teammate’s superior strategy, posted his fastest lap time of the 90-minute session with half an hour to go.
The entire field, with the notable exception of the Mercedes-AMG runners, clocked their fastest times on the Soft compound tyre which has been heavily selected by the drivers on the ultra-smooth circuit that is laid out around the former Winter Olympic Games venue.
The Silver Arrows took a different strategy in FP1, opting instead for longer race-style runs on the slower Medium tyre compound. Former Russian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas lapped two-tenths of a second quicker than defending Russian Grand Prix winner and championship leader Lewis Hamilton to claim P4, with the Briton fifth-fastest.
The session was not smooth sailing for either driver. Hamilton took to the run-off at Turn 2 – a scene of several first-lap dramas in the event’s history – while Bottas’ session was brought to an early finish in the final minutes of the session with an apparent DRS failure on his car’s rear wing.
Alexander Albon was sixth-fastest in the second Red Bull Racing Honda, albeit a full second off the leading pace. He and teammate Verstappen have taken on new Honda internal combustion engines this weekend and will each serve serve five-place grid penalties for Sunday’s race.
Their fellow Honda runners at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly, have taken on entirely new power units and will start from the back of the grid. The timing will put all four drivers in seemingly good stead for the next Grand Prix in Japan, Honda’s home race.
Gasly went on to finish the session a solid twelfth-fastest, while local hero Kvyat had an all-too-brief run in FP1 when his STR14 ground to a halt after a handful of laps with a suspected fuel system issue that triggered a sudden power loss.
The steadily improving Renaults led the midfield charge, with Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo finishing seventh- and eighth-fastest respectively. Ricciardo had a late spin and backed into the Turn 5 barriers, but managed to limp his car back to the pits with its rear wing sitting askew after it took the brunt of the impact.
The midfield runners were again tightly bunched, with just half a second splitting Ricciardo and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen who was fifteenth-fastest. Sergio Pérez showed further promise for the upgrades Racing Point brought to last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix by going ninth-fastest, with teammate Lance Stroll half a second slower in P16.
Romain Grosjean was an equally promising tenth-fastest in his Haas Ferrari, which was being run in an older-spec aerodynamic configuration. His teammate Kevin Magnussen, equipped with more recent upgrades, was less than one-tenth of a second off the Frenchman’s pace and finished P13.
A notable absentee from the upper midfield fight was McLaren, which is hotly rumoured to announce a split with engine partner Renault and return to customer Mercedes power next season. Carlos Sainz Jr. was eleventh-fastest, with teammate Lando Norris focusing on long runs and only P16.
Well off the pace were the two Williams entries of George Russell and Robert Kubica, with neither driver able to lap within four seconds of Leclerc’s best time. Having not raced on the Sochi circuit before, Kubica – who had a half-spin at Turn 5 – was predictably slowest of all; the Pole will start Sunday’s race at the back of the grid after multiple Mercedes power unit element changes.
|FORMULA 1 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX 2019 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:34.462||20|
|2.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:34.544||+ 0.082||25|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:35.005||+ 0.543||20|
|4.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:35.198||+ 0.736||28|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:35.411||+ 0.949||22|
|6.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:35.484||+ 1.022||22|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:35.740||+ 1.278||21|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:36.287||+ 1.825||20|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:36.321||+ 1.859||27|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:36.516||+ 2.054||23|
|11.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:36.523||+ 2.061||28|
|12.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:36.538||+ 2.076||25|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:36.596||+ 2.134||21|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:36.714||+ 2.252||26|
|15.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:36.770||+ 2.308||22|
|16.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:36.844||+ 2.382||30|
|17.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:37.328||+ 2.866||18|
|18.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:38.520||+ 4.058||27|
|19.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:38.550||+ 4.088||5|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:38.670||+ 4.208||29|
Image via Scuderia Ferrari