Valtteri Bottas led the way in first practice for Mercedes at the Russian Grand Prix ahead of title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. The Finn, fresh from his strong performance at the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago, went fastest with a time of 1m34.427s, beating teammate Hamilton by 0.211s.
Verstappen was third, just 0.016s further adrift, albeit with the championship leader using a second set of new soft tires late in the hour to set his best time, benefiting from rapidly improving conditions on the dusty street circuit. This flattered the Dutchman’s morning, and he ended the session with only 13 laps to his name and with his car on jacks in the garage.
It was an unusual example of a first practice session for the appearance of the red-walled rubber, which is usually held in its blankets for the more representative afternoon conditions. However, the high chance of rain on Saturday, including for qualifying, freed teams to use the fastest tire in what is ordinarily a session reserved for setup exploration, with every driver using at least one set each.
Charles Leclerc was fourth quickest, his Ferrari equipped with a new and upgraded power unit. The Monegasque was out early and used only the soft tire to bed in the motor, and after 22 laps he was 0.69s off the pace.
Sebastian Vettel was fifth for Aston Martin, the German 1.354s off the pace at the head of a tight midfield. Pierre Gasly followed, just 0.013s behind, with Carlos Sainz a further 0.017s adrift in the second Ferrari.
Lando Norris was eighth quickest, but the Briton ended a scrappy session with a damaged from wing after a strange spin on the penultimate apex on his way into pit lane. The McLaren driver theorized his rear axle had locked unexpectedly, sending him gently into the wall, but he was able to continue back to his pit box under his own power.
Sergio Perez was ninth, 1.7s off the pace, with Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon in tow close behind.
Lance Stroll was 12th and more than two seconds behind the benchmark, with Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen following.
Yuki Tsunoda was 3.3s slower than the leader, the Japanese driver complaining that his AlphaTauri car was “so nervous” through the session.
Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi followed, while newly re-signed Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher were more than four seconds off the pace in the final two places.