Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas completed a Mercedes Friday practice clean sweep at the Austrian Grand Prix, but it was Sergio Perez’s third-quickest time for Racing Point that grabbed the paddock’s attention.
Hamilton’s best time — a 1m04.304s on the soft tire early in the session — was more than half a second quicker than every other driver bar teammate Bottas, who was just 0.197s off the pace. The only caveat on the team’s comfortable day came with around 10 minutes remaining, when Bottas returned to pit lane reporting a shift issue, preventing the Finn from returning to the track.
But the sizeable gap from Mercedes to everyone else was anomalous in the context of most of the rest of the field, with P3 to P16 separated by less than a second, and unexpectedly Perez’s best efforts in the pink-colored Racing Point made him best of the rest, pipping even Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari by 0.016s for third on the timesheet.
Lance Stroll finished the day seventh, 0.2s behind teammate Perez. Only Vettel, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren’s Lando Norris split the pair.
Racing Point’s strong uptick in performance during preseason testing and now in an official timed session has been drawn the ire of midfield rivals, who have pointed to the RP20’s striking resemblance to last season’s Mercedes car as being the source of an unsporting advantage.
The team — which has a technical partnership with Mercedes that provides it with the German marque’s power unit and gearbox — has openly admitted its design has been heavily inspired by the 2019 championship-winning W10 but denies any impropriety.
Racing Point also impressed with its race pace, as Perez’s engineer informed his charge that his long-run simulation on the medium tire was a match for Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who finished the afternoon eighth behind Stroll.
Verstappen’s afternoon was messy, the Dutchman and 2019 winner at the Red Bull Ring swapping ends several times, particularly into the first turn, though avoided picking up damage on each occasion. His teammate Alex Albon finished the day 13th and appeared to struggle finding a workable balance in his RB16.
Charles Leclerc was ninth, making only minor improvements on his deficit to Hamilton to finish 0.994s off the pace. Carlos Sainz — having broken his front wing a little past halfway through the session while running wide at Turn 6 — rounded out the top 10 a touch over a second in arrears.
Renault’s Esteban Ocon and AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat were 11th and 12th fastest ahead of Albon, while Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi finished 14th, the Italian notably adopting the second of his maximum of two electronic control units — a component of the power unit — allocated for the season.
Haas teammates Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were 15th and 16th ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, with Williams duo George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, split by Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, completing the field.