Lewis Hamilton sets the pace in opening practice at the Austrian Grand Prix.
With a time already three-tenths faster than 2016’s best offering, Lewis Hamilton laid down the pace in opening practice. Bettering the efforts of the opening pace-setter, Max Verstappen, as plenty of drivers found themselves spinning at the Red Bull Ring.
As the carbon fibre falling from Vettel and Hamilton’s cars in Azerbaijan continued to float in the air, first free practice at the Austrian Grand Prix got underway with a burst of installation laps.
One of the last to hit the track during the installation stage was Max Verstappen, who hit the track with soft Pirelli’s fitted on route to the opening time – a 1:09.481 that he lowered immediately but remained 1.1 seconds off last year’s opening benchmark.
Max’s later start to the session is reminiscent of his Red Bull team, who arrived on Friday morning with a mass of parcels just delivered to the circuit. With new parts arriving late on, including a new floor.
Williams too brought upgrades to the Red Bull Ring with the Wantage-based crew running new bargeboards in Austria. Spending the early stages of FP1 blasting an ultraviolet light onto their new additions to illuminate and photograph the airflow when in the pits.
When on track, meanwhile, podium debutant last time out in Baku – Lance Stroll – was the first driver to post a timed lap on supersoft rubber. Crossing the line 2.5 seconds down on Verstappen’s pace before improving next time around to take a second out of the deficit. ver-straddling the inside kerb on final corner causing the car to slide
Over-straddling the inside kerb at the final corner, however, caused Stroll’s car to slide out on him. Kicking off a flurry of driver’s running off track, including both Ferrari’s at the opening bend.
First up came a flicker of yellow flags as Kimi Raikkonen ran deep into the runoff having spun under braking when all wheels locked and the rear snapped violently. Luckily, Kimi was able to come to a halt just before the gravel trap and he continued on his way. But having locked all wheels, his tyres were gone and he was forced to pit.
Early yellows soon followed for Grosjean, too, as the Frenchman ran off track at Turn 2 as he bailed out of the corner. Something Vettel could not achieve at Turn 1 after the German pitched his car into a spin when he clipped the inside kerb and lost the rear.
While the Ferrari’s and Grosjean found themselves off track, Valtteri Bottas become the first man to demote Verstappen from P1 as he moved 8-tenths clear on the ultrasoft tyres. Only for Hamilton to soon move a tenth clear of himself, and improve to lap inside 1 minute 6.
Bottas, too, was not without running off at Turn One as well. But unlike Vettel, the Finnish driver was able to catch his slide early to merely run wide. Leading Grosjean off track as the Haas racer followed the Silver Arrows’ line.
Initial pace setter, Max Verstappen, found himself improving while still running with the soft compound tyres. Moving back up the order, but half a second down, only to run off at Turn 1 as the rear slipped. That moment, however, was savable. Unlike his following excursion at Turn 7, that saw Verstappen slide into the gravel and ultimately into the wall – damaging his right-rear wheel.
Following their respective spins, Raikkonen had returned to the pits with severe flat spots ruining his tyres. While without damage, Vettel was able to remain on track and improved to briefly take P1 on supersoft tyres. Hamilton, though, instantly followed home with a new benchmark time of his own.
With Hamilton back atop the leaderboard, the mid-session lull kicked in and the field flocked back to the pitlane. An opportunity Alonso utilised to change the front suspension and ride height of his McLaren featuring a new rear wing that adorns strakes hanging from the upper element.
Vandoorne, on the other hand, retook to the track to move into the P9. While elsewhere Bottas moved up the leaderboard on a fresh set of supersofts to demote Lewis from being the pace-setter. But the mass movement on the leaderboard was down the Vandoorne, as he again improved to take P6 – splitting Raikkonen and Verstappen.
For Bottas, though, the Finn had taken to the top on the supersoft rubber having previously run the softest compound Pirelli have brought for the weekend. Likewise, Hamilton had previously opted to run the ultrasoft compound. But as Bottas set the pace on supers, Hamilton emerged on softs – running just a tenth down on his team-mate as he improved on his previous best.
Yet, despite now being the pace-setter, Bottas again ran off at Turn One. Spinning at the opening corner before Hamilton moved a tenth of a second up. Lewis then continued to improve and create a three-tenths margin over Valtteri – but was not without issues of his own as he clouted the outside kerb at T1 after slipping away from the apex.
Felipe Massa, too, ran heavily over an outside kerb in the closing stages of FP1. Running off track out of the penultimate corner before calling to return to the pits. The home to Marcus Ericsson, with the Sauber driver forced to watch on while his car sat on stands and bottom of the leaderboard.
Carlos Sainz also suffered a late spin in the final stages of his lap. Losing the rear out of Turn 10 before hitting the radio with “traffic from Max” – suggesting the Spaniard felt his Toro Rosso had become destabilised from the wake caused by the Red Bull.
The Red Bull, too, spun late on as Verstappen carried too much speed into Turn 3 to follow posting a purple first sector time and moving up to second on the leaderboard. Posting a lap time also faster than Hamilton’s best effort a year ago, as the Mercedes posted a 1:06.228 in Q2 – more than two seconds faster than the race set track record held by Michael Schumacher in 2003.
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||22||1’06.165||0.19|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||31||1’06.620||0.645|
|8||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||30||1’07.437||1.462|
|10||Esteban Ocon||Force India||39||1’07.511||1.536|
|13||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||31||1’07.633||1.658|
|18||Alfonso Celis Jr.||Force India||15||1’09.280||3.305|