The 2020 Formula 1 World Championship season finally started in earnest, and for many, it initially appeared to be a continuation of 2019 as the factory Mercedes team topped the timesheets in the opening practice session of the Austrian Grand Prix.

A tick over four months after the Australian Grand Prix was aborted before it even got underway, the glorious sound of twenty V6 turbo-hybrid engines roared into life at a spectator-free Red Bull Ring.

Despite leaden skies and a few spots of rain, at the end of 90 minutes of busy track action, it was defending champion Lewis Hamilton who led the way from teammate Valtteri Bottas in their newly-liveried Mercedes entries. It was like 2019 all over again.

Hamilton’s fastest time of the session, a 1:04.816, was posted on the Soft Pirelli tyres, with Bottas’ best effort just under four-tenths of a second slower. Both drivers were spotted running the controversial DAS – Dual Axis Steering system – which made its debut in pre-season testing and is likely to be the subject of a further protest by Red Bull Racing despite the FIA ruling that the device complies to the technical regulations.

Defending Austrian Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen was a promising third-quickest in his Red Bull Racing Honda, whose best lap was some three-tenths of a second slower than Bottas. The Dutch driver didn’t have the cleanest of sessions, spinning at Turn 1 with 20 minutes on the clock after he took too much kerb at the apex to the right-hander.

Barely one-hundredth of a second slower was the Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz Jr. in the McLaren Renault, which is also sporting a diversity-themed livery change and a new sponsor.  His teammate Lando Norris was sixth-fastest.

Sandwiched between the McLarens in an impressive fifth-fastest was the Racing Point Mercedes of Sergio Pérez. The Mexican backed up the team’s impressive pre-season in the new RP20 chassis which is itself courting controversy over its extremely close resemblance to last year’s championship-winning Mercedes W10.

Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon was seventh-fastest in the second Red Bull Racing Honda, while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo – bound for McLaren next year – was eighth-quickest, having posted his fastest time on the slower Medium compound Pirelli rubber.

The Australian was narrowly quicker than the Haas Ferrari of Kevin Magnussen, who figured further up the timesheets than many had predicted given the American team’s VF-20 is effectively running in its pre-season testing specification. The Dane did the bulk of the team’s running in the session, as teammate Romain Grosjean was confined to the pit garages after two laps of running when he suffered a brake fluid leak.

The Frenchman managed to get back out on track in the final minute for a shakedown lap, with his repairs prolonged by the new rules permitting fewer mechanics to work on the car in order to maintain safe social distancing.

Scuderia Ferrari finished down the order, with both Charles Leclerc (P10) and birthday boy Sebastian Vettel (P12) eschewing the Soft Pirelli tyres. The Italian team is already downplaying its prospects this weekend after a less-than-convincing pre-season build-up where several design calibration issues with its SF1000 challenger were identified.

The pair was split by the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll, who spent most of the session on the Hard compound tyres.

Series returnee Esteban Ocon’s session was disrupted when his Renault shed part of a bargeboard on the start/finish straight. The Frenchman finished thirteenth-fastest in his first practice outing in over a year, ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

The slowest four runners to set a representative time came from AlfaTauri and Williams, with the former’s Pierre Gasly quickest of the quartet ahead of Williams duo George Russell and F1 debutant Nicholas Latifi. Gasly had a spin with 15 minutes to go in the session and was lucky not to be collected by Russell in the process.

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11 1:04.816 42
2. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11 1:05.172 + 0.356 38
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RB16 1:05.418 + 0.602 37
4. Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren Logo 2020 McLaren F1 Team MCL35 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.431 + 0.615 41
5. Sergio Pérez Racing Point Logo 2020 Racing Point F1 Team RP20 1:05.512 + 0.696 33
6. Lando Norris McLaren Logo 2020 McLaren F1 Team MCL35 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.621 + 0.805 41
7. Alexander Albon Red Bull Racing RB16 1:05.701 + 0.885 29
8. Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team R.S.20 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.860 + 1.044 29
9. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Logo 2020 Haas F1 Team VF-20 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:05.907 + 1.091 27
10. Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:05.924 + 1.108 31
11. Lance Stroll Racing Point Logo 2020 Racing Point F1 Team RP20 1:06.074 + 1.258 34
12. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.077 + 1.261 32
13. Esteban Ocon Renault F1 Team R.S.20 Renault Logo 2020 1:06.270 + 1.454 22
14. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing Logo 2020 Alfa Romeo Racing C39 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.360 + 1.544 24
15. Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Logo 2020 Alfa Romeo Racing C39 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.365 + 1.549 28
16. Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlfaTauri Logo 2020 Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01 1:06.404 + 1.588 25
17. George Russell Williams Racing Logo 2020 Williams Racing FW43 1:06.495 + 1.679 27
18. Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing Logo 2020 Williams Racing FW43 1:06.906 + 2.090 31
19. Daniil Kvyat Scuderia AlfaTauri Logo 2020 Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01 1:06.943 + 2.127 19
20. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Logo 2020 Haas F1 Team VF-20 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:46.361 + 41.545 6

Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

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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.