Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set the pace in the first practice session for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix. The German was fractionally faster than the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by five hundredths off a second after they both set there fastest times on the hypersoft tyres.
This weekend is being seen as make or break in Vettel’s title chances, following a number of setbacks since July. But Vettel set his fastest time early on to go fastest by a tenth over Verstappen. Vettel’s title rival Lewis Hamilton was third, three tenths off the pace.
His teammate Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest, with fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen seventh. While Red Bull is showing strong pace this weekend, both Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will start from the back because of engine changes.
Ricciardo was fifth fastest, however, he suffered a small fire, after he came into the pits early with smoke billowing from the rear of his Red Bull. His mechanics took the floor off his car to investigate the problem.
Esteban Ocon put his Force India ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, however, it appeared as if the Finn was more focused on the Ultrasoft tyres.
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was narrowly ahead of the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, as the teams are expected to resume a close fight this weekend. However, Hulkenberg’s session was cut short after an exhaust leak.
Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean was eleventh fastest, earlier in the morning the team announced that both drivers will be retained next season.
Many of the drivers struggled with the slippery circuit, Sochi’s full circuit is largely a temporary street circuit, that means grip is harder to find and lockups are very common.
Antonio Giovinazzi was tenth fastest outpacing fellow Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc. The Italian was driving Marcus Ericsson’s car, the driver he will replace next season.
Lando Norris who will replace Fernando Alonso at McLaren next year was thirteenth after suffering a spin early on. Also spinning was the Williams of Lance Stroll.
Russian driver Artem Markelov, who took Carlos Sainz’s seat for the session was fifteenth. Fellow Russian, Sergey Sirotkin finished the opening session of his home race in eighteenth, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley.
Williams Lance Stroll was twentieth.