10 July 2020 16:38

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Sergio Perez finished on top of the time charts at the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria in the first free practice session. Jack Aitken was taking part in his first Formula 1 practice session for Williams in place of George Russell. Robert Kubica returned to Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo Racing in place of Antonio Giovinazzi for this practice session. The ninety-minute long free practice session started under clear skies with the air temperature at 27 degrees C and the track temperature at 45 degrees C. Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to exit the pit lane when the lights went green and the session started.

Most drivers took to the track on the white-striped hard compound tyres. Alexander Albon was on top in the early exchanges ahead of Sainz, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon. With one hour of the session to go, Max Verstappen went to the top of the time charts. Nicholas Latifi pulled off the track with a gearbox issue and first the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed and then the session was briefly red-flagged. As the session progressed, drivers bolted on the red-striped soft compound tyres to test their one-lap pace.

The Mercedes drivers were still on the medium compound tyres and Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas moved into first and second position. With thirty minutes to go, Sergio Perez put himself in first position on the soft tyres, 0.253 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Team-mate Lance Stroll who was briefly on top had his time deleted for exceeding track limits. On his second flying lap, Stroll went fourth behind Perez and the Mercedes drivers. With 30 minutes remaining, Perez led the session from Bottas, Hamilton, Stroll, Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel and Daniil Kvyat.

Verstappen on a set of brand new soft tyres jumped to second position 0.096 seconds behind Perez. The session ended with Perez and Verstappen ahead of the two Mercedes drivers and Stroll. After the Mercedes drivers topping every session at this venue last weekend, Perez ended the first free practice session on top. This time it's the Styrian Grand Prix, run at the Red Bull Ring, the same track as last week. With the Hungarian Grand Prix taking place next week as well, this is going to be a very busy season. They were initially due to come into effect at the Hungarian GP next week but, clearly, the situation is worse than they thought and getting some early track time for the new bits and bobs will be crucial. It will be especially helpful to run them on the same track as last week. Racing Point's Sergio Perez set the fastest time in opening practice for Formula 1's first Styrian Grand Prix ahead of Max Verstappen, as Mercedes avoided soft tyre running. Austrian GP winner Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Ferrari again significantly adrift of the top times. In a session that began six degrees hotter than the equivalent session from last weekend's event at the Red Bull Ring, McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr set the initial pace, as several squads - including Renault and Alfa Romeo - fitted aerodynamic measuring devices for the early laps. Red Bull's Alex Albon took over at the head of field with a 1m06.344s on the medium tyres just over 10 minutes into the 90-minute session, improving that mark before Verstappen took over with 1m06.087s - also on the yellow-walled mediums. Verstappen continued to lower the best time in the session's opening half an hour, which ended under red flag conditions as Williams's Nicholas Latifi stopped on the inside of the fast right-hand kink of Turn 5. Latifi reported the engine "just went", although a gearbox issue was suspected of causing the stoppage, which was initially covered by a virtual safety car before the session was suspended so the FW43 could be craned away. The Mercedes pair then appeared on the mediums, after they had conducted all their early running on the hard tyres, with Bottas stealing P1 seconds before Hamilton nipped ahead with a 1m05.208s. Hamilton lowered the best time again before Perez went out on the softs and shot to the head of the pack with 1m04.867s just before the one-hour mark, which was not beaten in the rest of the running. Bottas did move into second - again on the mediums - before Verstappen used the softs to go just 0.096s slower than Perez's best time. That left Bottas and Hamilton 0.222s and 0.253s adrift respectively, with Perez's team-mate Lance Stroll fifth on a 1m05.396s. But Stroll lost his best time on the softs - a 1m05.211s - which was set shortly before Perez's session-topping effort on the red-walled tyres went in, because of a track limits infringement at the exit of the final corner as he ran too wide and had that lap deleted. Albon, who complained about the handling of his RB16, particularly in slow speed corners, finished sixth, with Sainz seventh ahead of Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), who also had a time deleted for a last corner track limits violation, and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo. Sebastian Vettel was 10th for Ferrari, which was trialling its new front wing and floor for the first time. Vettel's best time on the softs was 0.903s slower than Perez's best time, with the four-time world champion locking up heavily at the tight uphill right of Turn 3 and going off into the runoff there during the early running. Daniil Kvyat spun his AlphaTauri at the same spot late on - losing the rear as he turned in well away from the apex - and was 11th fastest, just ahead of Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari. Jack Aitken and Robert Kubica ended up 17th and 18th in their FP1 cameos in place of George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi at Williams and Alfa Romeo respectively. Kevin Magnussen did not set a time and only completed three laps as Haas was forced to inspect a possible battery problem on his car for much of the session. Pos Driver Car Gap 1 Sergio Perez Racing Point/Mercedes 1m04.867s 2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 0.096s 3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.222s 4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.253s 5 Lance Stroll Racing Point/Mercedes 0.529s 6 Alexander Albon Red Bull/Honda 0.616s 7 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren/Renault 0.735s 8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 0.831s 9 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 0.902s 10 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.903s 11 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri/Honda 0.948s 12 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.970s 13 Esteban Ocon Renault 1.007s 14 Lando Norris McLaren/Renault 1.041s 15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1.574s 16 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1.579s 17 Jack Aitken Williams/Mercedes 1.901s 18 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1.930s 19 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 4.731s 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari -