Mercedes and Ferrari were closely matched in a first practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix that ended under a red flag for debris.
Lewis Hamilton set the pace but his best lap of 1m04.838s left him just over 0.1s clear of Sebastian Vettel in second. Vettel also used the medium compound tire to set his best time compared to the softs for Hamilton and third-placed Valtteri Bottas. Although his final lap tally of 35 was two more than Hamilton, Bottas missed out on some running early on as Mercedes found an oil leak on his power unit and had to change it to the previous specification on Friday morning.
Charles Leclerc similarly ran the mediums for his quickest time and was 0.3s off Hamilton, with just over half a second covering the complete top six that also included Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. Ferrari spent the session analyzing some test items designed to help the team understand why some pieces didn’t work in France, meaning its mileage was lower compared to Mercedes and Red Bull.
That mileage wasn’t helped by the session being curtailed a few minutes early, courtesy of an incident for Nico Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg ran wide at Turn 9, damaging his front wing as he hit the exit curb hard. The left side of the front wing had broken but become lodged under the front of the car, with Hulkenberg running wide at the final corner as a result and leaving debris and mud all over the track as he rejoined.
The session was red flagged with four minutes remaining and only restarted in order for practice starts to take place on the grid.
Behind the top six, McLaren again looked strong with Carlos Sainz seventh fastest, 0.644s off the pace. However, the Spaniard is set for a grid penalty for new power unit components, meaning he will have to fight through from the back of the grid on Sunday.
McLaren will also be encouraged by Lando Norris finishing in the top 10 — albeit 0.6s off his teammate — despite setting his best time on the hard compound tire. Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen separated the two McLarens in a more encouraging start to the weekend for Haas.
Aside from the Hulkenberg incident there were a few occasions of drivers running wide, with Antonio Giovinazzi struggling in particular early on. The Alfa Romeo driver — who ended up 16th, one place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen — went off at each of the first three corners, bouncing through the gravel on the final occasion before being able to rejoin.
The short lap also ensured Williams was close to the midfield, with George Russell in 19th within two seconds of Hamilton and 0.7s off the top 10.