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.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX GROβER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2020 – FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1|
|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 F1 Team MCL35||1:05.431||+ 0.615||41|
|5.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:05.512||+ 0.696||33|
|6.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||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||1:05.860||+ 1.044||29|
|9.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:05.907||+ 1.091||27|
|10.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:05.924||+ 1.108||31|
|11.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:06.074||+ 1.258||34|
|12.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:06.077||+ 1.261||32|
|13.||Esteban Ocon||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:06.270||+ 1.454||22|
|14.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:06.360||+ 1.544||24|
|15.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:06.365||+ 1.549||28|
|16.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:06.404||+ 1.588||25|
|17.||George Russell||Williams Racing FW43||1:06.495||+ 1.679||27|
|18.||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Racing FW43||1:06.906||+ 2.090||31|
|19.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:06.943||+ 2.127||19|
|20.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:46.361||+ 41.545||6|
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team