Mercedes fastest on day one in Austria as Formula 1 returns after a 110 day break

World champions Mercedes reigned supreme with Lewis Hamilton topping both practice sessions, while McLaren, Racing Point and Renault all had strong showings in what promises to be a very tight midfield battle. Alasdair Russell reports.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Austrian Grand Prix - Preparation Day - Spielberg, Austria

Lewis Hamilton led both Mercedes and the rest of the chasing pack in both practice sessions, with the 35-year-old intent on matching Michael Schumacher’s record seven world championships.

It looks like a case of picking up where they left off for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton, who hopes to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships this season, topped both of the opening practice sessions, as teammate Valtteri Bottas slotted in behind. However, the fact Bottas had a gearbox issue in the latter part of FP2 will surely be of concern for the silver arrows. 

Ferrari appeared to struggle all day, taking the first session to work on longer runs in preparation for the race itself. Charles Leclerc managed a best finish of ninth place across both the sessions. Sebastian Vettel managed fourth place in the afternoon session, albeit more than half a second adrift of the pace set by Hamilton. They’ll be looking forward to their upgrades arriving in Hungary in two weeks’ time. 

Racing Point and Sergio Perez impressed in both single lap pace and long run pace in the afternoon session. Their car has drawn controversy, as it is essentially a copy of last year’s dominant Mercedes car and, as you’d expect from a copy of a dominant championship winning car, it looks very quick. Perez managed third place, one behing both of Mercedes’ drivers. Lance Stroll finished the afternoon session in seventh place, but would have been higher had it not been for a mistake on his qualifying simulation when he was on a quicker lap than his teammate. Perez proved the strength of his car during the long runs in the afternoon, with his race pace equal to that of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. 

Neither of the Red Bull drivers looked comfortable on the Red Bull owned circuit today. Both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon had spins, and Verstappen had to abort his attempt at a qualifying simulation after an off which damaged his front wing. Verstappen managed P3 in the first practice session, with Albon in seventh. The pair slid down the order in second practice to eighth and thirteenth respectively. However, both Red Bull drivers did not seem too despondent in media appearances after the session and claim there is more to come tomorrow in qualifying. 

Renault had a promising start as Daniel Ricciardo put his car in fifth position in the afternoon session, whilst Esteban Ocon managed eleventh. Ocon – starting a grand prix for the first time since the Abu Dhabi in 2018 – lost part of his Renault’s bargeboards after running over the kerbs in first practice.

esteban ocon

Esteban Ocon hasn’t raced in a grand prix since 2018 and will be hoping to improve on his practice sessions, especially after losing part of his car’s bargeboards in the morning.

Haas had a quiet day. Romain Grosjean lost a lot of valuable running after issues with the brake pedal left him stranded in the garage for much of first practice. When he did get out in the second session, the pace wasn’t anything to write home about as he managed P16, with his teammate Kevin Magnussen just ahead in fifteenth. 

McLaren had a decent day, as the Ferrari bound Carlos Sainz Jr. put his car in the top four in practice one, before Lando Norris placed his car in sixth in the second practice. McLaren showed signs that last year’s progress was not just a flash in the pan and that they’ll be well placed in what promises to be a tight midfield battle. 

Alfa Romeo lacked pace as both their cars propped up the lower reaches of the timing sheets and Kimi Raikkonen had an off, taking to the gravel trap after a sudden snap of oversteer. Alpha Tauri (formerly Toro Rosso) also had a quiet day, languishing in the lower half of the times and a couple of spins for Danil Kvyat could be cause for concern (seemingly all Red Bull owned cars were keen on practicing their pirouettes today). 

williams fw43

Despite a significant upgrade in their car following their disastrous season last year, Williams still have a lot of work to do if they are to lift themselves up through the pack.

Williams are still at the back of the pack for this season it seems, although with a car that’s much improved on last year’s effort – the worst in the team’s history. Nicolas Latifi got his rookie season off to a shaky start. He was four tenths of a second off his teammate George Russell in first practice was, followed up by a spin and another off in practice two which saw him end up a second off the pace of Russell in that session. 

There promises to be a titanic battle for midfield supremacy with third down to thirteenth covered by just half a second in the afternoon practice session. Mercedes look to be in a field of their own, the gap between them in practice one and two was never less than half a second but with more surely to come from Red Bull tomorrow, the story might not be done yet. 

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