Reigning Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton topped the first practice session of the Austrian Grand Prix, the opening round of the delayed 2020 season.
F1 was due to kick off its season over three months ago at Melbourne, but a positive coronavirus test within the paddock led to the cancellation of the race, and grand prix racing was unable to get started until now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hamilton led a Mercedes 1-2, heading Valtteri Bottas by three and a half tenths, with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen the best of the rest in third place.
Mercedes deployed its controversial dual-axis steering system in FP1, leaving itself open to a legality challenge from rival Red Bull – although the champion team long insisted that the use of DAS has the blessing from governing body FIA.
It had rained in the lead-up to the session, with support series FIA Formula 3 taking to a wet track for its practice session – but the Red Bull Ring’s surface largely dried up by the end of F3 running, and was almost completely dry in time for F1 track action.
Carlos Sainz Jr in the McLaren was the first driver to head out on track as FP1 kicked off, and within the next four minutes he was joined by 17 other cars, with only the new-liveried Mercedes W11s remaining in the garage initially.
Hamilton emerged another couple of minutes later, while Bottas completed the full set of 2020 cars on track in a grand prix weekend at around the 13-minute mark.
The Finn duly went to the top of the timesheets, usurping the only driver to have set a laptime in Lando Norris – and after they traded another pair of improved flying laps, Bottas settled on a 1m07.578s to end the run out front.
As the Mercedes returned to the pits, the circuit was hit by light rain, and the next cars to head out of the pits – the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, followed by a host of others – did so already on intermediate tyres, albeit with Leclerc immediately remarking that the track was too dry for the compound.
Half an hour into the session, Hamilton switched back to slicks and swiftly posted the first sub-1m07s lap of the weekend, before being narrowly overtaken by the first soft-tyre flying lap of the season, courtesy of Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, which was then swiftly deleted for a track limits infringement at the penultimate corner.
As Mercedes concluded its runs, the soft-shod Racing Point cars took over out front – with Sergio Perez dipping into the 1m15s margin and Stroll propping up a 1-2, while also managing to draw the ire of Sainz, who reported on team radio “last two corners, people not giving a shit” and called for a warning.
The W11s returned to the track on softs with just over 30 minutes to go, and immediately both went several tenths faster than Perez’s benchmark, Hamilton soon setting a 1m04.816s that narrowly surpassed his own benchmark from FP1 at the same venue last year.
Following a brief virtual safety car appearance to clear debris from the main straight, shed by Esteban Ocon’s Renault, Mercedes concentrated on long runs but its 1-2 went more or less unthreatened.
Verstappen spun at Turn 1 on his first flying lap on softs, but recovered on his subsequent attempt to lap six tenths behind Hamilton.
This put the Red Bull driver third, but only 0.013s ahead of Sainz, with Perez slotting in between the Spaniard and his McLaren team-mate Norris in sixth.
Here's how things played out for the field in FP1…
— The Race (@wearetherace) July 3, 2020
Alex Albon was nearly three tenths down on fellow Red Bull driver Verstappen in seventh, having likewise lapped on softs, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo in eighth and Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in ninth.
Magnussen’s team-mate Romain Grosjean was the only driver not to set a representative laptime in FP1, sidelined for nearly the whole session by a brake fluid leak.
Ferrari opted against any soft-tyre running and was therefore a muted presence on the timing screens, with Leclerc’s medium-tyre effort placing him 10th, a tenth and a half up on 12th-placed Vettel.
Antonio Giovinazzi led Alfa Romeo’s efforts in 14th, with Pierre Gasly the lead AlphaTauri in 16th, neither team using the soft.
George Russell led his debutant Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi in 17th, lapping 1.679s off the pace on softs but having a late push lap scuppered by Gasly spinning in front of him at the final corner.
Practice 1 Results
|Pos||Name||Car||Best Time||Gap Leader|
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||1m05.418s||+0.602s|
|5||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point-Mercedes||1m05.512s||+0.696s|
|7||Alex Albon||Red Bull-Honda||1m05.701s||+0.885s|
|11||Lance Stroll||Racing Point-Mercedes||1m06.074s||+1.258s|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m06.36s||+1.544s|
|15||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m06.365s||+1.549s|