The first of two home race weekends for Red Bull began with Max Verstappen setting the early pace in FP1 ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix.
Verstappen, the World Championship leader by 12 points following victory in France last time out, was the first and only driver to dip down into the 1:05s on this fast and furious Red Bull Ring circuit.
Pierre Gasly was also able to showcase the power of the Honda engine by finishing in P2, just a couple of tenths down on his ex-Red Bull team-mate.
Mercedes, meanwhile, were not cut too far adrift from their title rivals to begin with as Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, P3 and P4 respectively, were four tenths off the pace, as was Yuki Tsunoda on the other side of the AlphaTauri garage.
There was a threat of thunderstorms disrupting the weekend action at the Red Bull Ring, but it was a bright and sunny start to proceedings in the Styrian hills for first practice.
Robert Kubica, replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo in the session’s only driver switch, began with a spin at Turn 3 and Haas’ Mick Schumacher soon followed with a spin of his own – both managed to avoid any early contact with the barriers.
After the first 15 minutes of the session, it was Verstappen who laid down the first marker with a 1:06.511 on the medium tyres. Pierre Gasly, Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda all combined to make it a Honda-powered top four in the early stages.
Hamilton, who was half a second down in P5 after his first medium tyre run, was the first of the big hitters to switch to the softest, red-striped tyres.
He went quickest of all through the middle sector but could only take a tenth out of Verstappen’s best time. On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Bottas was three tenths off his team-mate following his first lap on the soft compound.
Alonso suddenly shot up to P2 as he closed to within a tenth of Hamilton, but that excitement was short-lived due to the FIA deleting his time for exceeding track limits.
Back at Mercedes, Bottas found improvement on his second flying lap to knock Hamilton off top spot by a mere 0.004 seconds.
Just as we reached the halfway stage of the FP1 session, Hamilton regained top spot with his second flyer by 0.054 seconds – but it wasn’t long before the session lead changed hands again.
AlphaTauri’s Gasly shaved a tenth off Hamilton’s time and then Verstappen went back top as he became the first driver to dip into the 1:05 benchmark.
Bottas looked on course to immediately better that time from the Dutchman, but a poor final sector ensured he was two tenths off the pace. He had gone quickest of all through the first two sectors.
P2 then became P4 again for the Finn as he became the latest driver to see his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits – this time at Turn 10.
Verstappen tried to go even quicker but traffic woes ensured he dipped back into the pits to start preparing for his first race simulation run of the weekend – usually about 10 laps’ worth of data in these shortened one-hour sessions.
The long runs came and went without any major incidents, although Hamilton and Bottas were both tangled up in traffic problems and came close to contact with the likes of Charles Leclerc, Antonio Giovinazzi and Gasly.
But all eyes will now return to the skies ahead of Friday’s afternoon second practice as the dark clouds started to brood over the Styrian circuit.
All best times set on soft tyres
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:05.910
2 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.256s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.422s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.476s
5 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 0.487s
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine 0.609s
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine 0.641s
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 0.674s
9 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 0.704s
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.719s
11 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.720s
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 0.759s
13 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.786s
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 0.798s
15 George Russell Williams 0.938s
16 Lando Norris McLaren 0.951s
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1.270s
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 1.563s
19 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo Racing 1.913s
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2.171s
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