French GP: Bottas leads Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Verstappen in FP1

Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time in opening practice for Formula 1's 2021 French Grand Prix in a Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen third.

French GP: Bottas leads Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Verstappen in FP1
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Baku winner Sergio Perez finished the one-hour session in fourth, as F1's leading two teams swept the top positions from the off at Paul Ricard.

Sebastian Vettel led the field out of the pits when the session got underway, his Aston Martin fitted with a pair of tall, triangular-shaped aero rakes, before Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi established the initial P1 benchmark at 1m38.487s as most of the drivers lapped on the hard tyres in the early stages.

Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc – who was running the mediums – Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz each improved the fastest time with their opening flying laps at the end of the first five minutes, with Sainz bringing it to a 1m36.749s.

Verstappen then moved to the top spot for the first time with a 1m35.639s, which stood as the best time until the end of the opening 10 minutes, when Lando Norris set a 1m35.461s.

Following in the McLaren's wake, Sainz then moved back to first place with a 1m35.342s, but Verstappen then completed a 1m34.139s, which stood as the fastest time on the hard tyres.

Approaching the halfway mark, the Mercedes drivers emerged on the soft tyres to complete the opening performance runs of the event, with Hamilton taking over in first place with a 1m33.783s.

Verstappen's opening flying lap on the red-walled rubber was 0.097s slower than Hamilton, who was soon usurped by Bottas – who had run over the large kerbs on the exit of the Turn 2 fast right in the early stages and damaged his front wing.

After spending some time in the garage as Mercedes assessed the damage – which it estimated was worth "tens of thousands of pounds" when team sporting director Ron Meadows complained to race director Michael Masi regarding the kerbs' placement – Bottas had slotted in just behind Verstappen at the end of the hard tyre running.

His 1m33.488s opening flying lap on the softs put him 0.335s clear of Hamilton and stood as the fastest time until the end of the session.

Verstappen ended up 0.432s behind Bottas, with Perez 0.745 adrift on his best soft tyre lap.

Red Bull brought Verstappen in to make a few adjustments after his opening soft-shod run, and he then nearly matched his time in the first sector – which stood to the session's end – before he went quickest of all the middle sector.

But running wide over the kerbs exiting the Turn 11, long fast right, meant Verstappen ended up abandoning that lap, with the Dutchman suspecting he may have picked up floor damage in the Turn 11 moment.

Esteban Ocon jumped up to fifth with a late flier on the softs, finished ahead of McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso in the second Alpine.

Gasly ended up eighth ahead of Norris, with Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.

Several drivers mirrored Bottas in running heavily over the Turn 2 exit kerbs – including Kimi Raikkonen (P13) and Gasly – while three of the field spun off.

Mick Schumacher, who ended up 19th in the final FP1 standings, spun approaching Turn 3 on his out-lap on the hards at the beginning of the session, clipping the wall with his right front after spearing off left when he hit the brakes approaching the turn.

The Haas driver was able to recover to the pits, which Vettel also managed to do after he had a high-speed spin turning into Turn 11.

The Aston's rear swung around on Vettel as he turned right for the first part of the corner, which sent him off backwards over the striped runoff area and he hit the tyre barrier with his rear wing.

Although it was a sizeable impact, Vettel was able to drive away and eventually returned to the track for the session's later running, ultimately finishing 15th, one spot behind teammate Lance Stroll.

Sainz was the other spinner, losing his Ferrari's rear after clipping the apex at Turn 2 hard and going off backwards into the runoff, ruining his first set of softs, just after the Spaniard had moved to start his initial performance running on that compound.

The Ferrari drivers ended up P11 and P16 in the final order, with Leclerc leading the way.

Roy Nissany, running in place of George Russell at Williams for FP1, brought up the rear of the field.

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap
1 Finland Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 24 1'33.448  
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 21 1'33.783 0.335
3 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull 23 1'33.880 0.432
4 Mexico Sergio Perez Red Bull 25 1'34.193 0.745
5 France Esteban Ocon Alpine 25 1'34.329 0.881
6 Australia Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 24 1'34.644 1.196
7 Spain Fernando Alonso Alpine 21 1'34.693 1.245
8 France Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 20 1'34.699 1.251
9 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren 21 1'34.707 1.259
10 Japan Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 22 1'34.847 1.399
11 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari 24 1'34.950 1.502
12 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 23 1'35.116 1.668
13 Finland Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 20 1'35.135 1.687
14 Canada Lance Stroll Aston Martin 23 1'35.275 1.827
15 Germany Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 16 1'35.289 1.841
16 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 24 1'35.342 1.894
17 Canada Nicholas Latifi Williams 22 1'35.612 2.164
18 Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin Haas 24 1'36.651 3.203
19 Germany Mick Schumacher Haas 14 1'37.329 3.881
20 Israel Roy Nissany Williams 16 1'37.881 4.433
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