SOCHI: Valtteri Bottas (Photo) led Lewis Hamilton in a predictable one-two from Mercedes in the opening practice of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix on Friday.
Mercedes has won all seven races held in Sochi since the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics first hosted a grand prix that year and Bottas has a strong record in Russia, winning in 2017 and 2020.
The Finn’s fastest lap in one minute 34.427 seconds on dry track and soft tires in a largely uneventful session was 0.211 faster than Hamilton, a four-time winner in the Black Sea resort, also on soft tires.
Red Bull championship leader Max Verstappen was third, 0.227 off the pace on soft tires, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel fifth. Pierre Gasly finished sixth for AlphaTauri.
Leclerc will start from the back of the grid on Sunday after a powertrain change while Verstappen has a three-place grid penalty due to his collision with Hamilton in the previous race at Monza.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by five points in the standings after 14 of 22 races.
Mercedes is 18 points ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.
Bottas told reporters on Thursday he would be prepared to “take one for the team” and let Hamilton win in Sochi if the situation arose. The Finn leaves Mercedes for Alfa Romeo at the end of the season.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, winner of the Italian GP in a McLaren one-two, finished only 14th while his teammate Lando Norris finished eighth.
Norris spun around after the session ended as he returned to the pits, but the damage appeared minimal.
“I think we should get back to the usual mix this weekend,” commented team boss Andreas Seidl.
“If we can pull it all together again, we should be in a good position to earn a lot of points.”
Kimi Raikkonen returned for Alfa Romeo after missing the last two races due to testing positive for Covid-19. – Reuters