Sergio Pérez set about proving that the Racing Point Mercedes could be a genuine frontrunner after posting the fastest lap time in Friday’s opening practice session for this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

The Mexican driver had finished sixth in last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the same circuit, a result both he and the team argued was not a reflection of the RP20’s genuine potential.  His fastest lap time, a 1:04.867 posted on the Soft Pirelli tyres, was just five-hundredths of a second slower than Lewis Hamilton’s best lap of last Friday’s FP1 session.  In a positive session for the Silverstone squad, the sister car of Lance Stroll was fifth-fastest despite having a number of lap times deleted for exceeding the track limits at Turn 10.

Just 0.096 seconds slower was the Red Bull Racing Honda of Max Verstappen, whose RB16 was fitted with a new Honda Electronic Control Unit after his early DNF in Sunday’s race. The Dutch driver tried a new rear wing for the session in a back-to-back comparison with teammate Alexander Albon, who was sixth-fastest and half a second slower in the sister car after struggling with understeer.

For the first time this session, neither factory Mercedes-AMG occupied either of the top-two spots on the practice timesheets.  Sunday race-winner Valtteri Bottas – who had escaped sanction from the FIA for a brief between-race visit to Monaco – was third-fastest ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, although both drivers’ fastest laps were posted on the Medium-compound Pirelli rubber.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr was seventh-fastest in his McLaren Renault, which was sporting a number of aerodynamic upgrades in its bid to continue the podium-finishing potential demonstrated by teammate Lando Norris last weekend.

The Spaniard was one-tenth of a second quicker than the AlfaTauri of Pierre Gasly, while Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top ten for Renault and Ferrari respectively, just 0.001 seconds apart.

In a bid to bridge the gap to the frontrunners, Ferrari brought forward a number of the aerodynamic upgrades it had originally planned to introduce at the following Hungarian Grand Prix. Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc tried out a new floor and finished an unrepresentative twelfth-fastest.

Sporting a new front wing and rear diffuser on his SF1000, Vettel reported being generally happier with his car’s handling although he did have a brief excursion through the Turn 3 tarmac run-off after a brake lock-up.

The same corner caught out Gasly’s teammate Daniil Kvyat, who had a low-speed half-spin in the final minutes of the session but still finished eleventh-fastest.

Kvyat’s spin aside, it was a generally incident-free session aside from a brief red flag period triggered by the stoppage of Nicholas Latifi’s Williams which ground to a halt at Turn 4 with a broken gearbox.

Norris was spotted overtaking two drivers during the preceding yellow-flag period and will subsequently incur a grid penalty after Saturday’s qualifying session.

Qualifying will itself prove a potentially interesting affair, if it runs at all. Heavy rain is forecast for Saturday to the point that many are suggesting the day could be entirely washed out. That could mean that the times in this afternoon’s second practice session may determine the grid order for Sunday’s race if qualifying cannot be rescheduled.

This may bring to question two teams’ decisions to run reserve drivers in FP1, potentially robbing their regular drivers of vital track time. Williams sidelined George Russell to give Formula 2 race-winner Jack Aitken his first official hit-out in F1 machinery (the Anglo-Korean driver was a fine P17), while Alfa Romeo ran Robert Kubica in place of Antonio Giovinazzi, with the Pole finishing slowest of those to set a representative time.

Kevin Magnussen was unable to have any meaningful running after his Haas Ferrari was forced into the pits with a battery issue.  With both he and teammate Romain Grosjean retiring their VF-20 cars last weekend with brake failures, this was not the start to the weekend that the American team needed.

Driver Team / Entry Time Gap Laps
1. Sergio Pérez Racing Point Logo 2020 Racing Point F1 Team RP20 1:04.867 32
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RB16 1:04.963 + 0.096 31
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11 1:05.089 + 0.222 31
4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11 1:05.120 + 0.253 29
5. Lance Stroll Racing Point Logo 2020 Racing Point F1 Team RP20 1:05.396 + 0.529 36
6. Alexander Albon Red Bull Racing RB16 1:05.483 + 0.616 28
7. Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren Logo 2020 McLaren F1 Team MCL35 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.602 + 0.735 40
8. Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlfaTauri Logo 2020 Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01 1:05.698 + 0.831 27
9. Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team R.S.20 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.769 + 0.902 31
10. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:05.770 + 0.903 25
11. Daniil Kvyat Scuderia AlfaTauri Logo 2020 Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01 1:05.815 + 0.948 28
12. Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:05.837 + 0.970 28
13. Esteban Ocon Renault F1 Team R.S.20 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.874 + 1.007 35
14. Lando Norris McLaren Logo 2020 McLaren F1 Team MCL35 Renault Logo 2020 1:05.908 + 1.041 25
15. Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Logo 2020 Alfa Romeo Racing C39 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.441 + 1.574 23
16. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Logo 2020 Haas F1 Team VF-20 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.446 + 1.579 31
17. Jack Aitken Williams Racing Logo 2020 Williams Racing FW43 1:06.768 + 1.901 35
18. Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo Racing Logo 2020 Alfa Romeo Racing C39 Ferrari Logo 2020 1:06.797 + 1.930 31
19. Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing Logo 2020 Williams Racing FW43 1:09.598 + 4.731 6
20. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Logo 2020 Haas F1 Team VF-20 Ferrari Logo 2020 no time 3

Image via BWT Racing Point Formula 1 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.