Mercedes Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the first practice for the French Grand Prix. The Englishman was a tenth faster than his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo third.
The four-time champion set his fastest time on the Ultrasoft tyres, that put him ahead of Bottas. After twenty-eight years, the sport has returned to Paul Ricard and a circuit which should favour Mercedes. Both of the silver arrows managed to improve late in the session.
Hamilton and Bottas, along with both Williams and Force India’s, were running a new Mercedes engine. However, it is unknown whether they were running the upgrade which was delayed earlier this month. However, regardless of the new power unit was delivering good performance.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourth and his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel fifth, both over half a second off the pace. Ferrari however doesn’t tend to show it true performance on Friday, also Vettel was struggling with the set up of his Mercedes.
Ferrari will be expected to close down that gap throughout the weekend.
The session past largely without major drama, a number of drivers spun at Beausset. Raikkonen, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley all narrowly missed the barriers during spins there.
However, Marcus Ericsson, who was fourteenth, slide off at eleven. The Swedish driver gained oversteer midway through the corner, skidding across the runoff and into the barrier.
As he climbed out of the car, it caught fire causing the session to be red flagged as marshals arrived on the scene. Though he appeared shaken after the heavy shunt and was slow to get out of his blazing car, he reported that he was “fine” to Sky F1.
But the Sauber driver finished ahead of both the Toro Rosso’s.
Romain Grosjean was the highest placed Frenchman, putting his Haas sixth fastest a second off the pace and ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Once again, it was close in the midfield as Pierre Gasly, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen were covered by less than half a second.
It was another difficult start to the day for Fernando Alonso, the McLaren was over two and a half seconds off the pace. While Stoffel Vandoorne nineteenth and only ahead of Sergey Sirotkin in a struggling Williams.