FP1: Leclerc is back on top for Ferrari

Date published: September 27 2019

Former Ferrari boss, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, would have "more than a few words" for Charles Leclerc.

Charles Leclerc put aside his Singapore disappointment to set the pace in Friday’s first practice for the Russian Grand Prix as Daniil Kvyat, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo all ran into trouble.

Taking to the Sochi Autodrom on a dry track, potentially for the only dry session of this Russian GP weekend, Lance Stroll fired the opening salvo on the soft tyres: a 1:43.328.

Whether conducting aero mapping or trying to save the tyres, both Stroll and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen were told by their engineers to stay off the kerbs in their early laps.

Next mind the kerbs, Stroll had a massive lock up at Turn 13, flat-spotting his tyres, while his team-mate Sergio Perez lowered the benchmark to a 1:39.610.

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Adding to the strangeness that can be F1, Renault reported a real bat was paying a “flying visit” to the team’s garage.

With the Racing Points having done the job of cleaning the track, others ventured out of their garages with Charles Leclerc hitting the front with a 1:37.593.

Unfortunately for the local fans they didn’t get to see much of Daniil Kvyat as the Toro Rosso driver lost drive and ground to a halt at Turn 15 bringing out the VSC.

Kvyat is already facing a back-of-the-grid-start having taken new Honda components for his home race, however, it seems his FP1 issue relates to the fuel system.

With the VSC lifted, Leclerc was quickly back up to pace, laying down purple sector times on his way to a 1:36.655.

Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton was the first to try out the FIA’s new directive regarding Turn Two with only partial success.

The drivers were informed on Friday morning that if they go left of the orange kerb then they must rejoin the track by driving “to the left of the first (orange block), to the right of the second (white block), to the left of the third (orange block).”

“My brakes are not working properly,” was Hamilton’s assessment – and then he went P1 with a 1:36.031, 0.15s up on team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Antonio Giovnazzi and Lando Norris joined the growing list of drivers getting it wrong while Hamilton and Romain Grosjean had a near-miss in the pit lane.

Bottas took over from Hamilton at the front, putting in a 1:35.551 as he ventured out for a second run, this time on the mediums, while Alexander Albon jumped up to second place but was still 0.7s down.

It was all change, though, as Ferrari – both cars on the soft tyres – jumped up into the 1-2 with Leclerc quickest on a 1:34.462. Sebastian Vettel was 0.543s down.

The mistakes continued to come as Perez found himself having to negotiate the Turn 2 bollards with George Russell heading the wrong way down an escape road, Verstappen running very wide at the final corner and Robert Kubica – facing an engine penalty – spinning at Turn 5.

On his next lap Verstappen, using the soft tyres, improved to second place, 0.082s off Leclerc’s pace.

Vettel dropped to third ahead of Bottas and Hamilton while Albon was P6 for Red Bull. There was late drama for Bottas as his DRS failed, collapsing in on itself in the final minute of FP1. He was told to be “careful” and box.

Nico Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Perez and Grosjean completed the top ten with Ricciardo also having late drama as he spun as the chequered flag fell and rear-ended the barrier in his Renault.

Times
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:34.462 (soft)
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.082s (soft)
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.543s (soft)
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.736s (medium)
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.949s (medium)
6 Alex Albon Red Bull 1.022s (soft)
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1.278s (soft)
8 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1.825s (soft)
9 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1.859s (soft)
10 Romain Grosjean Haas 2.054s (soft)
11 Carlos Sainz McLaren 2.061s
12 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 2.076s
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 2.134s
14 Lance Stroll Racing Point 2.252s
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 2.308s
16 Lando Norris McLaren 2.382s
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 2.866s
18 George Russell Williams 4.058s
19 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 4.088s
20 Robert Kubica Williams 4.208s

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