Mercedes drivers in top two spots ahead of Button and Alonso. Marussia to run single car ‘out of respect’ for Bianchi.
Nico Rosberg set the fastest time of the first practice session at the all-new Sochi Autodrom as the inaugural Russian Grand Prix got underway.
The Mercedes driver lapped the new circuit in a session-best time of 1:42.311, to eclipse team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.065 seconds.
Third place went to McLaren’s Jenson Button, who was just two tenths of second down on Rosberg, while Fernando Alonso was fourth for Ferrari with a time of 1:42.720. Kevin Magnussen was fifth in the second McLaren car.
Drivers spent the opening session familiarising themselves with the 5.848km circuit and in the early part of the session it was Turn Two that caught out many, with a number of drivers running off as they attempted to define the best line through the turn in order to be correctly set up for the long Turn Three left-hander that follows. Button also spun at Turn 8, though he was able to continue.
Behind Magnussen, Sergio Pérez was sixth for Force India, while Daniil Kvyat gave the local fans something to cheer about when he finished the opening session of his home grand prix in seventh place.
Kimi Raikkonen was eighth in the second Ferrari and the top 10 order was rounded out by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in P9, with Valtteri Bottas 10th for Williams.
Prior to the start of the session Marussia revealed that it would a single car at Sochi, as a mark of respect to Jules Bianchi who was severely injured in a crash at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. The team’s sole driver here, Max Chilton, finished the first practice in 21st position.
A team statement said: “We will run a single car for the duration of the forthcoming Grand Prix weekend in Sochi, out of respect for our driver Jules Bianchi, who remains in hospital in Yokkaichi, Japan, in a critical but stable condition.
“We have written to the Stewards of the Meeting to inform them that we have withdrawn our second car. The Team feels strongly that fielding a single car, that of driver number 4, Max Chilton, is the appropriate course of action under the difficult circumstances of the weekend."
Elsewhere, Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin made his grand prix weekend debut for Sauber, the Muscovite taking over regular driver Esteban Gutierrez’s car for the session. Sirotkin, who is currently fifth in the drivers’ standings in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, finished his first F1 practice session in 17th place.
In another FP1 replacement, Roberto Merhi drove Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham. The Spaniard, who is currently second in the Formula Renault 3.5 standings, finished 19th in FP1 in Sochi, with a time of 1:46.782.