Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the first practice session after going two-hundredths faster than the Red Bull’s of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix. The Finn set his fastest time on the tyres which put him ahead of the two Red Bulls on a weekend that is expected to see the fight between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Portimao is a circuit that it expected to give a better understanding of the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, with early signs suggesting a weekend of narrow margins. Sir Lewis Hamilton however had to settle for fifth, but he was only three tenths behind his teammate Bottas, Mercedes always tends to under-deliver on Friday so caution is still important.
One of the key factors beginning to emerge is tyres, although the Portimao circuit did appear to offer more grip than last year drivers were still needing two laps to get their tyres into the right operating window. The session saw times improving by almost four seconds.
The tyre issue appeared to affect all the teams and could become one of the things to watch in qualifying and the race, but better answers will come in the afternoon when teams doing their race simulation.
Bottas set the early pace on the hard tyres, before Hamilton went faster and the early lap times say almost a second improvement when Carlos Sainz did a 21.8 just ten minutes into the session, Verstappen went faster but suffered a snap of oversteer through Sagres meaning he lost time on the fastest lap.
Verstappen appeared to struggle with vibrations on his soft tyre run, on that lap he went second just two hundredths behind Bottas. Teammate Sergio Perez was third fastest a tenth behind his teammate.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc again showed the progress made over the winter going fourth fastest, but he also went wide at the same corner early on. His late improvement moving him ahead of Hamilton, as the world champion looked to struggle in the middle sector, after setting a good first sector.
Pierre Gasly again showed the pace of the Alpha Tauri going sixth, seven-tenths off the fastest time. The Frenchman setting a 20.4 ahead of the Williams of George Russell, who was the surprise of the session out pacing the McLaren of Lando Norris by a tenth going seventh fastest.
Russell needed a strong start to reset following his crash with Bottas at Imola, Williams could again at this early stage of the weekend be in contention for Q2 and points. This would be a great reset.
The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon completed the top ten. Sainz was over a tenth faster than the Spaniard with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll going eleventh fastest. The Canadian put himself ahead of the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo and the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda.
Sebastian Vettel provided some comic relief halfway through the session when he briefly parked up at the McLaren pits, where he had been used to stopping with Ferrari in 2020, before rolling up to his Aston Martin. However, the four-time champion struggled for pace half a second behind Stroll in sixteenth.
Callum Ilott made his FP1 debut with Alfa Romeo, the Englishman going seventeenth fastest four tenths behind Kimi Raikkonen.