SOCHI, Russia – Ferrari’s trailing Formula 1 title contender Sebastian Vettel was fastest in first practice on the seaside Sochi track on Friday ahead of Sunday’s Russian F1 GP.
Helping him in the race will be the sad fact that about a quarter of the 20-car grid will have a penalty facing them as the lights change.
Vettel’s lap was 1min34.488. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was only 0.050sec slower and championship leader Lewis Hamilton ambled in third for Mercedes, 0.33sec slower than Vettel – though 40 points ahead in the title chase.
Sunday will be Verstappen’s 21st birthday but his present from F1’s judges was an engine-change penalty. Such a change would mean a tail-ender start but on Friday that was not certain with four other drivers facing engine penalties.
They are Verstappen’s Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Ricciardo was fifth fastest, behind Bottas, but sat out much of the session with mechanics fussing his car.