Max Verstappen hit the front in second practice for the Russian Grand Prix, where Mercedes looked like the third quickest-team.
After Charles Leclerc edged out Verstappen in FP1, the roles were reversed on Friday afternoon when Verstappen set a 1m33.162s and lead Leclerc by over 0.3s. More surprising was the gap to Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas third-quickest – on a circuit where he has traditionally been strong – but over 0.6s off the pace.
Lewis Hamilton was fourth-quickest, 0.8s adrift, and then almost made contact with Alexander Albon late in the session when he squeezed through a closing gap in the high-speed Turn 3. Both Mercedes drivers improved on their second timed laps on soft tires, while Sebastian Vettel similarly had a poor first lap and his second effort was only good enough for fifth place, a second off Verstappen.
The downside for Red Bull is both drivers will have a five-place grid penalty this weekend for taking a new Honda internal combustion engine (ICE).
Pierre Gasly has the same penalty and was sixth-quickest for Toro Rosso, while the man who replaced him at Red Bull – Albon – suffered a reliability issue and missed out on plenty of early running. When Albon finally completed his soft tire run he encountered traffic on long runs and made a number of errors, eventually ending up down in 10th place.
Racing Point looked strong throughout Friday after introducing an upgrade in Singapore, with Sergio Perez seventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Lance Stroll. Albon and Lando Norris.
Norris’ McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz aborted his first timed lap on soft tires when he felt he was held up by Hamilton, but as he moved across to gesture at the Mercedes, Hamilton was simultaneously moving back to the racing line and the pair nearly made contact.
There was also a misunderstanding between the Toro Rosso drivers when Daniil Kvyat – resuming running after stopping on track in FP1 – did not see team-mate Gasly approaching in the first sector and the pair got close to touching. Kvyat ended up 12th-quickest behind Norris, but will start from the back of the grid as a result of a power unit penalty.
There were fewer incidents in the second session on Friday than the first, but a number of drivers went wide at Turn 2 and had to take to the run-off area. New bollards have been installed that force the cars to negotiate a tight chicane, but the first marker board was knocked over early on in the session, requiring the Virtual Safety Car while marshals repaired it.