Hulkenberg tops FP1 at the Russian GP after a 30-minute delayed start

Opening practice at the Russian Grand Prix topped by Nico Hulkenberg.

Following a delayed start to action after a circuit-wide diesel spillage, round 15 of the Formula One World Championship kicked off with the first free practice session from Sochi. In what ended as an hour long session, Nico Hulkenberg topped the time sheet with just five hundredths of a second splitting Rosberg and himself at the top while Hamilton span as the session ended.

Two weeks ago we were racing at Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton regained the championship momentum by taking his eighth win of the year and came back from his Singapore woes.

But instead of today’s first free practice session at the Russian Grand Prix kicking off and handing the teams an hour and a half to run around the Sochi Autodrom with the soft tyres, which will this year be used as the primes, they had to watch on from their garages for 30-minutes as marshals got to work cleaning up diesel patches left around the track left by a service truck.

Eventually race control deemed the track was safe enough for running and opened the pit lane with an hour left on the clock. However, after extensive work had been carried out to clean up the diesel spillages, the track was declared wet causing intermediate tyres to be the option call.

Yet even with the track deemed safe, large white patches remained on the damp track highlighting the extensive work that was required to get FP1 underway. And with the poor track conditions, the teams only sent their drivers out for a few installation laps, together with Rosberg carrying out a few practice starts before Alonso broke in the soft compound slick tyres.

Although Alonso was unable to smoothly exit a handful of the traction zones with the slick tyres on a damp track, the running he carried out at this stage still allows the team to gather aero and ride height data. But Fernando was also running the new, improved Honda power unit that Jenson does not have yet as Honda were only able to create enough components for one care to have a complete package.

More drivers soon joined Alonso and Ericsson out on track again, with more runners tip-toeing onto the soft tyres. And with more drivers on the drying tarmac, the times began to tumble but surprisingly McLaren kept one car near the top for a while longer.

Jenson was even able to lower his personal best time to a 1 minute 50 second lap as rain began to fall slightly over the Sochi Autodrom. Track conditions were clearly still far from optimal as well as Raikkonen span his Ferrari at turn eight moments after Vettel ran off the track at the same corner.

Times soon continued to drop but once again a McLaren was at or near the top with Alonso once again moving into P1 momentarily before Bottas leaped the Spaniard. But while Alonso topped the time sheet, his earlier soft tyre running partner, Ericsson, was being pushed back into his garage after the engine kept cutting out when he attempted a practice start.

Despite having intermittent ERS-K deployment in his Force India, Nico Hulkenberg was putting his frustrations at the F1 2016 calendar clashing with the 2016 Le Mans 24 hours into a flying lap to rocket to the top with a 1:45 before dropping into the 1:44’s as the chequered flag waved.

Nico’s time across the line saw him move above fellow Nico, Rosberg, by five hundredths of a second shortly after the German in the Mercedes moved into P1 as his team-mate (Hamilton) span at turn eight whilst attempting to overtake Massa but locked up and span.

Position Driver Gap
1 Hulkenberg 1:44.355
2 Rosberg 0.052
3 Vettel 0.631
4 Perez 0.791
5 Ricciardo 0.878
6 Sainz 1.133
7 Hamilton 1.336
8 Bottas 1.391
9 Verstappen 1.848
10 Raikkonen 1.860
11 Button 1.876
12 Massa 1.978
13 Nasr 2.392
14 Alonso 3.088
15 Maldonado 3.651
16 Kvyat 3.741
17 Palmer 4.739
18 Merhi 8.639
19 Ericsson 9.917
20 Stevens 13.899