Racing Point’s Sergio Perez topped the time sheet in first practice in Formula 1’s first Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, narrowly edging Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.
Valtteri Bottas, winner of last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the same circuit, and his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton were second and third, but neither used the soft tire employed by the leading two drivers to set their best times.
Just 0.096s separated the leading Mexican from the Dutchman in second place, with a further 0.126s splitting the pair from Bottas and Hamilton.
Perez’s Racing Point teammate, Lance Stroll, was fifth quickest and more than 0.5s off the pace, but the Canadian would likely have slotted into fourth ahead of Hamilton with his flying lap on the soft tire had he not had that time deleted for exceeding track limits exiting the final turn.
Verstappen’s teammate, Alex Albon, rounded out the top six 0.6s off Perez’s benchmark.
Red Bull Racing looked quick from the off, with Max Verstappen setting an early pace from Albon. The nominal home team is running with new rear wing endplates this weekend, and Verstappen switched to a second-spec front nose towards the end of the session after evaluating it last weekend.
Albon was equipped with a new control electronics element, one of two allowed per driver for a season, after he retired from last weekend’s race with a power unit-related problem.
As the session approached its final half-hour Mercedes set a new benchmark on the medium-compound tire, Bottas edging Hamilton by 0.031s and more than 0.6s quicker than Verstappen.
But Sergio Perez usurped the Bottas shortly afterwards, albeit with the Racing Point shod with the soft tire. With smoke emanating from the rear of the car — as has become common for the pink cars since last week — the Mexican took the quickest time by 0.2 second.
Verstappen reinserted himself towards the top of the order with a lap quick enough for second on the soft compound, a little under 0.1s off the pace while Albon — who was complaining of “huge understeer mid-corner” — slotted into sixth ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Daniel Ricciardo ended the morning session ninth for Renault, 0.902s off the pace after spending part of his track time running with aero rake behind his front wheels at the team continues evaluating its substantial upgrades introduced at the start of the season.
Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top 10 for Ferrari, 0.001s behind Ricciardo. The Italian team spent the session evaluating a raft of new parts fast-tracked from Maranello after its woeful performance in last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, with a new floor and front wing the headline items rotated onto both his and teammate Charles Leclerc’s car. Leclerc finished the morning 12th, AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat separating him from the sister car.
Esteban Ocon was 13th ahead of Lando Norris, with Kimi Raikkonen leading Romain Grosjean in 15th and 16th.
Jack Aitken took George Russell’s Williams for first practice, lapping 1.9s off the pace. He led fellow practice sub Robert Kubica, seated in Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo, by 0.029s.
Nicholas Latifi cause the session’s only interruption when his Williams suddenly lost drive coming out of Turn 3 on his seventh lap. He rolled through Turn 4 to stop by a gap in the fence, but the marshals couldn’t maneuver his car through the space, requiring a few minutes under red flags to clear the car. The team later confirmed the issue to be gearbox-related.
Kevin Magnussen was last, having failed to set a time after a suspected battery issue restricted him to just three installation laps for the morning.