Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were separated by just 0.069s during first practice for the French Grand Prix as focus turned to a new Ferrari update.
The two Mercedes drivers traded fastest times at various stages in the latter half of the session, with championship leader Hamilton coming out on top with a 1m32.738s. They were the only pair to drop below the 1m33s mark, with Charles Leclerc third fastest on a 1m33.111s.
However, Ferrari was very busy early on as it carried out back-to-back tests between its old and new front wing on Sebastian Vettel’s car, with both cars running updates in FP1. The team was reportedly also analyzing a potential aero mapping breakthrough found in the simulator, with its unorthodox schedule seeing both drivers spending time in the pits in the latter third of the session.
Vettel was not completely happy with the handling of his car, however, complaining of vibrations when running the new front wing and running wide at Turn 1. He pit to revert to the previous specification, ending up fifth behind Max Verstappen.
Verstappen himself was also having a difficult time of it as he ended up nearly 0.9s slower than Hamilton and had a spin at Turn 8. The Red Bull driver was able to continue without damage, but it was notable that all three Honda-powered cars running an updated internal combustion engine (ICE) suffered spins.
The most dramatic of the three was a spin for Pierre Gasly, when he lost the rear of his car on the exit of Turn 3 and slid sideways across Turn 4, flat-spotting his tires and only just stopping before the barrier. Gasly was able to limp back to the pits but it ended his session slightly early with his tires damaged, as he finished sixth, 0.3s off Vettel and only just ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren.
Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Alexander Albon — not running the Honda update — rounded out the top 10, as McLaren enjoyed an encouraging start and Ricciardo also used an upgraded Renault ICE.
Daniil Kvyat was the other driver to spin as he swapped ends at Turn 5 after 20 minutes of the session. It was a less than ideal opening to the weekend for the Russian, who will start the race from the back of the grid as a result of power unit penalties as he takes the Honda upgrade.
While the spins all produced little in the way of damage due to the large run-off areas at Paul Ricard, Romain Grosjean’s session was interrupted by a water leak that limited him to just nine laps. The Haas driver ended up bottom of the timing screens as a result, behind the Williams pair where FP1 stand-in Nicholas Latifi ended up 0.025s ahead of Robert Kubica.