Mercedes has picked up where it left off at Silverstone, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading FP1 for this weekend’s F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
Bottas, who was announced yesterday as having re-signed with Mercedes for another season, beat Hamilton to top spot by 0.138s.
The black-colored Silver Arrows, both of which suffered spectacular tire failures in last weekend’s race, were untroubled during practice but for a momentary lapse into “limp-home mode” from Bottas’s power unit early in the session, although the Finn rectified the issue from the cockpit.
The Mercedes W11 pair again were comfortably faster than the opposition, with Max Verstappen next best in third but more than 0.7s off the pace.
The Dutchman, as was teammate Alex Albon in sixth, was equipped with a brand-new Honda power unit as of Friday morning, but it brought no performance benefit and was only installed to expand the pool of available engine components.
Nico Hulkenberg made his second F1 appearance for the season with Racing Point after full-time driver Sergio Perez returned another positive COVID-19 test. The German, dropped by Renault last season and without a drive in 2020, is out to avenge his failure to start last weekend’s British Grand Prix with a clutch problem. He acquitted himself well in the first session, lapping only 0.049s slower than Verstappen and almost 0.6s ahead of teammate Lance Stroll, who was eighth fastest.
It was a good start to the weekend for the pink team, which is still reeling from the Friday morning stewards ruling that it had breached sporting regulations regarding the design process for its brake ducts.
Charles Leclerc, third place-finisher last weekend, finished the session fifth quickest for Ferrari and nearly 0.9s adrift of leader Bottas. Albon came next another 0.2 further back, followed by Sebastian Vettel is the second Ferrari and Stroll in the sister Racing Point machine.
AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat was ninth, the Russian rebounding from his violent crash at Becketts on Sunday, ahead of Renault’s Esteban Ocon in 10 and Pierre Gasly in the sister AlphaTauri in 11th.
Running was undertaken exclusively on the soft tire during FP1, which reflected its almost uselessly delicate nature. The range of Pirelli tires is a step softer this weekend — last week’s medium is this week’s hard, etc. — and the soft is expected to be a very poor race compound, particularly with the temperature hovering at around 85 degrees F.
Sector times suggested the softs struggled to last a lap at full pace, so teams were therefore happy to dispose of their allocation for practice, saving the more durable rubber for later in the weekend.
McLaren’s Lando Norris demonstrated well the brittleness of the softs, returning to pit lane late in the session with severe blistering on his rear tires. The team was generally off the pace with the red-marked rubber, with Norris finishing up 12th ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean and teammate Carlos Sainz.
Sainz was the only other driver last weekend to suffer a tire failure in the race and also suffered blistering during practice. Williams teammate George Russell and Nicholas Latifi followed in 15th and 16th ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Kimi Raikkonen and Alfa Romeo reserve driver teammate Robert Kubica were 18th and 19th ahead of Kevin Magnussen at the bottom of the order.