Russian GP: Bottas leads Mercedes 1-2 in first practice

Valtteri Bottas led a Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Lewis Hamilton in opening practice for Formula 1's 2021 Russian Grand Prix, with championship leader Max Verstappen third for Red Bull.

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The much-discussed wet weather did not arrive at Sochi in time for the start of the 60-minute session, but, although FP2 is expected to also be dry, it is thought highly likely that rain will impact final practice and qualifying on Saturday.

This led to the teams completing more varied run plans for the opening action at Sochi, with Ferrari sending Charles Leclerc out immediately on the soft tyres, with the rest of the field – except Verstappen, who did not appear until nearly 15 minutes had passed – split between the hard and medium rubber for the initial running.

Carlos Sainz used the hards to set the opening first-place benchmark time at 1m41.790s before Leclerc immediately went ahead on a 1m38.626s.

Sergio Perez, Hamilton and Bottas all had brief spell at the top of the times during the opening 10 minutes, before Leclerc's 1m36.708s restored him to first place just before that part of the session was completed.

Five minutes later, Bottas used his hards to move ahead on a 1m36.412s, after which Leclerc – running a new Ferrari engine fitted with an upgrade hybrid system – reported "something strange" and returned to the pits.

Verstappen had made his first appearance by this stage, also going straight out on the softs – a tyre the leading teams would be unlikely to want to use in Q2 and the race's opening stint, even if qualifying was forecast to be dry.

He initially lapped nearly a second off Bottas's pace, but the Dutchman was fuelled for a long-stint and his times tumbled accordingly.

Despite reporting "something horrible" with his ERS deployment during his early laps, Verstappen moved into first place on a 1m36.055s just before the 20-minute mark was reached, with most other cars back in the pits.

Five minutes later he ended his eight-lap run on the softs with a then personal best of 1m35.616s.

The two Mercedes cars had switched to the softs by this point, with Bottas using the C5 softest rubber in Pirelli's range, suitable for Sochi's smooth, low-grip surface, to set the session's best time on his first timed lap on that compound.

His 1m34.427s pulled him clear of Verstappen by 1.1s, with Hamilton slotting into second a few minutes later 0.211s adrift, the world champion losing time with a slide out of the penultimate corner.

After the halfway point had passed, most of the pack switched to long-run data-gathering, as Red Bull waited until 45 minutes had been completed before sending Verstappen back out for a qualifying simulation effort.

After setting a personal best in the first sector, where Bottas was fastest to the end of the session, Verstappen was over 0.2s down on the Finn, and although he clawed 0.1s with FP1's fastest middle sector, he lost the same amount again running through the technical final sector, where Bottas was also best in the opening session, to end up 0.227s adrift.

Leclerc finished fourth ahead of Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, who had reported that the wind was strong during the early running.

Pierre Gasly took sixth for AlphaTauri, finishing ahead of Sainz and McLaren's Lando Norris, as Perez and Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

After the chequered flag had fallen, Norris clipped the inside of the pit entry wall on his return to his garage after he half-spun at low-speed, which damaged his front wing.

He reported "the rear just locked or something."

Monza winner Daniel Ricciardo ended up down in 14th, splitting the Alfa Romeo pair Antonio Giovinazzi and the returning Kimi Raikkonen.

Giovinazzi was one of several drivers to go off at the track's first real corner, the Turn 2 90-degree right – the Italian locking both front wheels heavily during the early stages and taking to the run off, then ending the session with a lock-up and brief slide off at Turn 13 – the big stop at the end of the back straight.

The session was briefly interrupted with 25 minutes to go when the virtual safety car was activated to allow a marshal to retrieve a piece of debris from behind the very end of the pit exit wall.

Cla Driver Chassis Laps Time Gap
1 Finland Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 25 1'34.427  
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 23 1'34.638 0.211
3 Netherlands Max Verstappen Red Bull 13 1'34.654 0.227
4 Monaco Charles Leclerc Ferrari 22 1'35.117 0.690
5 Germany Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 23 1'35.781 1.354
6 France Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 24 1'35.794 1.367
7 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 25 1'35.811 1.384
8 United Kingdom Lando Norris McLaren 24 1'35.959 1.532
9 Mexico Sergio Perez Red Bull 22 1'36.188 1.761
10 Spain Fernando Alonso Alpine 21 1'36.225 1.798
11 France Esteban Ocon Alpine 25 1'36.236 1.809
12 Canada Lance Stroll Aston Martin 21 1'36.522 2.095
13 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 23 1'36.795 2.368
14 Australia Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 23 1'36.877 2.450
15 Finland Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 20 1'36.952 2.525
16 Japan Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 26 1'37.794 3.367
17 United Kingdom George Russell Williams 23 1'38.013 3.586
18 Canada Nicholas Latifi Williams 21 1'38.155 3.728
19 Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin Haas 22 1'38.586 4.159
20 Germany Mick Schumacher Haas 23 1'38.977 4.550
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