Valtteri Bottas set the one-lap benchmark at a dusty Sochi Autodrom in a messy first session for Mercedes at the Russian Grand Prix.
Bottas, who typically performs well in Sochi, was 0.507s quicker than Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo despite the Australian setting his quickest time nearer to the end of the 90-minute session when the circuit was cleaner.
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull Racing and 0.654s off the pace. The Dutchman is running a new power unit this weekend after a Honda-related problem resulted in his retirement from the previous Tuscan Grand Prix.
The leading Finn’s foreboding time belied a difficult day for Mercedes. Bottas and Hamilton both locked up on a crucial set of the medium and hard tires respectively, both of which are expected to be crucial in the race thanks to Pirelli brining its softest range of compounds to Russia.
Hamilton also locked up on a set of softs, leaving him without a representative lap time on his way to 19th on the time sheet.
The Mercedes teammates were far from the only drivers to make mistakes, however, with the slippery and visibility dirty semi-street circuit putting several drivers in a spin throughout the session.
Carlos Sainz caused a brief virtual safety car interruption a little past the 30-minute mark with a crash at Turn 7. The Spaniard took too much speed to the apex and slid wide, where dust spun his McLaren backwards and into the barriers.
His rear wing collapsed, Sainz limped back to the pits with his car shedding bodywork, necessitating the full-circuit caution to clear.
A Sochi spin for Carlos Sainz early on in FP1 on Friday 🔄 💥
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 25, 2020
Nicholas Latifi also found the barriers with a bigger crash at Turn 10. The Canadian lost the rear of his Williams on the apex and slid uncontrollably backwards into the tire wall.
Unable to rescue the car, the track was red-flagged with a little more than half an hour remaining for marshals to recover the wreckage.
Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were unperturbed by the dust, however, ending the session fourth and fifth fastest, 0.873s and 1.042s adrift respectively. Both are running new rear suspension and gearboxes updated to the specification run by Mercedes this season, having run year-old parts for the opening nine races.
Stroll also had the benefit of the sole new set of aerodynamic updates available to the team this weekend courtesy of his higher place in the drivers standings
Esteban Ocon was sixth quickest in the second Renault ahead of AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat. The Russian, who is also running an updated Honda power unit along with teammate Pierre Gasly, completed all his running exclusively on the medium-compound tire. Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon followed in eighth.
Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were ninth and 11th respectively and split by AlphaTauri’s Gasly, who also eschewed the soft tire for first practice.
McLaren’s Sainz and Lando Norris followed in 12th and 13th and around two seconds off the pace, the pair ahead of Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen.
Kevin Magnussen was the fastest Haas driver in 16th and 2.5s adrift. George Russel was 17th for Williams ahead of Romain Grosjean in the second Haas.
Hamilton was able to salvage some slow, heavy-fuel laps late in the session on his flat-spotted hard tires on his way to 19th ahead of the crashed Nicholas Latifi in 20th.