Friday: Mercedes dominates, Red Bull decides on Verstappen engine change

24-09-2021 23:06 | Updated: 25-09-2021 07:40
F1 News
Friday: Mercedes dominates, Red Bull decides on Verstappen engine change

In line with expectations, Mercedes led the timesheets on Friday in Sochi. Both the first and second free practice sessions were completed by Valtteri Bottas as the fastest, with Lewis Hamilton in his wake. Max Verstappen was unable to keep pace with his Red Bull Racing car, but won't be too worried about that this weekend.

Red Bull and Honda have opted to swap the Dutchman's engine for the Russian Grand Prix. Sochi was already considered one of the best opportunities for the championship leader to take a grid penalty as painlessly as possible, especially after the grid penalty imposed after the incident with Lewis Hamilton at Monza.

Mercedes came to Russia as favourites, and Friday's two practice sessions further strengthened that suggestion. The German racing team is still unbeaten at the circuit, which has been on the Formula One calendar since 2014.

Mercedes starts strong

The weekend in Sochi began sunny and dry, but it won't stay that way for the entire weekend. On Saturday in particular some heavy rain is expected. On Friday however there was no problem at all.

The initial phase of the first free practice session was characterised by the different programmes of Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. Max Verstappen started on the soft tyre, while Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton started the session on the hard tyre. Once on the same compound, Mercedes' pace proved a step too far for Verstappen.

Bottas excels again

Bottas, who is always strong on the Sochi circuit, also started well on Friday. The Finn, who already has two wins to his name in Russia, quickly closed a gap on Verstappen. Hamilton was also unable to match his teammate's times, but he managed to keep the gap smaller.

Sergio Perez struggled from the start, although he too started the session on hard tyres. Verstappen managed to narrow the gap to Bottas to two tenths, and was just one hundredth of a second behind Hamilton.

In the second free practice session the difference was much bigger. Mercedes started strongly, while Red Bull had more trouble setting fast lap times. In between the first and second free practice Verstappen and Red Bull announced that they will replace the Honda engine of the Dutchman, so he will have to start from the back of the grid on sunday.

Remarkable moment for Hamilton

Halfway through the session the red flag was waved: Antonio Giovinazzi hit the wall and threw debris onto the track, which the marshals cleaned up in no time. Hamilton also had a remarkable moment: he overshot the pits, knocking over a mechanic. This was due to the 'brake magic' button, Hamilton said on the team radio.

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