Lewis Hamilton led a close first practice session from Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel, but his teammate Valtteri Bottas missed out on any proper running.
Bottas reported a misfire on his second lap of the session and slowly returned to the pits for investigations, with Mercedes unable to diagnose the problem during initial analysis in the garage. As a result the team decided to change the Finn’s power unit, ruling him out of the rest of the session.
That left Hamilton to take on a bigger workload with just one Mercedes running, and the championship leader duly completed the highest number of laps with 41. With it, Hamilton also posted the fastest time as he registered a 1m17.233s to lead Verstappen by 0.165s.
It was a tricky session for Verstappen, who was reporting an unstable rear end and had two spins. The first came at the final corner and was attributed to a tailwind, while he later swapped ends at Turn 12 after losing the rear on entry and again complaining how sensitive the car is.
Vettel was only 0.001s slower than Verstappen in third place as three different teams filled the top three positions, with a gap of 0.3s back to Pierre Gasly in fourth place. Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top six as the only other two drivers to get within a second of Hamilton, as all of the top 10 used the soft compound tire for their best timed laps.
That tire choice was in part due to mixed conditions, with early spots of rain giving way to a heavier shower half an hour into the session. The interruption was short and resulted in a few exploratory laps on intermediate tires but the circuit had not changed significantly and running soon resumed on slicks.
The conditions could be blamed for a couple of spins for the Racing Point drivers, with Lance Stroll first to swap ends exiting the chicane. Stroll took too much curb in the second part of the right-left sequence, unsettling the car and spinning onto the grass. That was soon followed by a a similarly dramatic spin for Sergio Perez as he lost the rest at Turn 10, with a big lock-up at Turn 1 shortly after suggesting the team was struggling with its setup somewhat.
Another driver voicing complaints was Romain Grosjean, who took to team radio to say: “There’s an issue. Find it but there’s an issue. I’ve got everything — understeer, oversteer, it’s like I’m on Monza wings. So there’s something that went wrong.”
Grosjean ended up in 12th place behind Daniel Ricciardo, with Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and Kimi Raikkonen occupying positions seven to 10.
Toro Rosso enjoyed a podium and sixth place in Germany but suffered an odd incident as running got underway in Hungary when something fell off Alexander Albon’s car in the pit lane. Albon ended up 14th, one position behind teammate Daniil Kvyat.