Valtteri Bottas has set the fastest time in the first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver was two tenths faster than teammate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
The track is busy early on. While heavy rain showers are forecast for tomorrow, it looks like it will remain dry during the race on Sunday. All preparation time on the slicks is therefore welcome.
Valtteri Bottas makes no bones about it on his beloved Sochi Autodrom. On the hardest tires he is almost three tenths below the time recorded by Charles Leclerc on the softest tires. Lewis Hamilton is only a few hundredths faster than the Ferrari driver.
Verstappen is not completely satisfied with the energy regeneration of his Honda engine, but nevertheless sets the fastest time, albeit on the soft tires. Bottas regains the lead on that compound, with more than a second difference. Hamilton closes in on two tenths. Charles Leclerc comes between the Mercedes and Verstappen with his new Ferrari engine. Thanks in part to a fast middle sector, the Dutchman climbs back up to third place in the final phase, a quarter of a second from Bottas.
Verstappen will in any case face a three-place grid penalty due to the collision with Lewis Hamilton in Monza. He may choose to change his engine and therefore, like Leclerc, have to start at the very back. His focus in practice will then be on the race setup and not on qualifying.