Valtteri Bottas consolidated his position as the fastest man in Sochi after sweeping Friday practice at the Russian Grand Prix. The Finn again had the measure of teammate Lewis Hamilton in a comfortable Mercedes one-two result, although the pair was more closely matched than in FP1, with Bottas leading the way by just 0.044s.
Hamilton was fastest in the first sector, but he slipped more than 0.3s to Bottas at the middle split, which he couldn’t recover in the final part of the lap. The Briton then had a strange collision with his front jackman, arriving too hot in his pit box and knocking him over. He later explained that he’d accidentally left on the “brake magic” brake bias setting.
In the unlikely but nonetheless contemplated event FP3 and qualifying cannot be run this weekend, with heavy rain forecast for Saturday, the results of second practice will set the grid for Sunday’s race, earning Bottas pole position.
The prospects of Mercedes’s first victory since July’s British Grand Prix were boosted further when the FIA confirmed during the session that title leader Max Verstappen had taken a brand-new power unit, the fourth of his season, earning him a back-of-grid penalty for Sunday.
The Dutchman was always likely to need a fourth motor after taking terminal damage to one of his pool in his crash with Hamilton in Silverstone, and after lapping off the pace in first practice and with a three-place penalty was already in store for his collision with Hamilton at Monza, Red Bull Racing has tactically decided to take the new engine here.
The Dutchman spent the afternoon preparing the car for a Sunday of overtaking, but he radioed his pit wall later in the session complaining that he didn’t have the top speed to make any passes, and he ended the hour 1.028s off the pace.
Race pace was also difficult to read, with an almost 10-minute suspension in the second half of the session to recover Antonio Giovinazzi’s smashed Alfa Romeo, curtailing long-run simulation time.
The Italian dipped his right wheels on the artificial turf beyond the curb at the exit of Turn 8 and lost control of his car, spinning backwards into the wall at Turn 9 and shattering his rear wing. He tried to continue but was instructed to stop the car by the side of the road to prevent it from shedding any more parts, and red flags were thrown to clear the debris and repair the barriers.
Pierre Gasly slipped into third behind the Mercedes duo in a strong afternoon with a difficult ending, the Frenchman losing the front wing of his AlphaTauri hopping over the sausage curbs at Turn 2 in the final seconds of the hour. McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon followed in fifth and sixth.
Carlos Sainz was seventh in the lead Ferrari, just 0.057s slower than Verstappen. Fernando Alonso followed in eighth ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari to complete the top 10, the Monegasque having only just avoided a Giovinazzi-style crash on the turf earlier in the session.
Sergio Perez was again way off the pace, ending the afternoon 11th and 1.345s down. Kimi Raikkonen managed 12th ahead of Williams driver George Russell and crashed Alfa Romeo teammate Giovinazzi, while Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi slotted into 15th and 16th
Daniel Ricciardo was 17th with only 11 laps to his name after losing more than 20 minutes of the session to an emergency power unit swap. McLaren had discovered a fault in the Australian’s engine at the end of FP1 and switched in another from his pool for the rest of the day, meaning no penalty will be incurred.
Yuki Tsunoda ended the day 18th ahead of Haas teammates Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.