Mercedes Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first practice session ahead of this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix. The Englishman set his fastest time on the slower soft tyre to go one tenth faster than the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Hamilton was almost half a second ahead of his main title rival Sebastian Vettel who was fourth fastest. There has been some speculation that Mercedes are beginning to bring upgrades which are delivering more performance to the car.
There will also be some speculation that Ferrari has been harmed by the FIA’s clampdown on burning oil as fuel, which has given Red Bull the chance to close up on the supersoft tyres. That meant that Verstappen was able to split Hamilton from team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The pace of the Red Bull will be a surprise as the Red Bull Ring’s long straights and fast corners should not play to the team’s strengths. But recent races have shown that the power defect is closing, with the team closing the gap.
Verstappen looked on a good lap with him setting the best first sector before he made a mistake into turn three. All of the Dutchman’s improvements came late in the session before a spin where he clipped the wall on his final lap.
Bottas also didn’t have a clean session on his way to third. The Finn ran wide twice at turn one as did many of the cars.
Hamilton was also a spinner, the Mercedes driver lost the rear at the apex of turn one. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth ahead of the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who spun at Turn Three early in the session. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne used the ultrasofts to go seventh, with team-mate Fernando Alonso ninth.
That will be seen as a major leap forward for McLaren and Honda. The team has struggled all season with reliability and poor performance, but this upgrade may have brought progress in that area.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat spilt the McLaren’s. There could be a close fight in the midfield, as Force India’s Esteban Ocon was just .04 of a second faster than Felipe Massa’s Williams. Kvyat’s team-mate was thirteenth ahead of Jolyon Palmer.
Both Renault and Force India ran their reserve drivers, with Renault’s Sergey Sirotkin seventeenth ahead of Alfonso Celis.
Pascal Wehrlein was ahead of Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson. However, it wasn’t a trouble-free morning for the Swede whose car spent much of the session being worked on in the garage.