Formula 1 is back, but no change at the top as Hamilton spearheads Mercedes 1-2 in Austria practice
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in the first practice session of the new season as Formula 1 made its long-awaited return to action.
It was a different F1 from what we have become accustomed to, with no fans in the grandstands at the Red Bull Ring for this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, and with all personnel on the pit wall and in the garages wearing PPE as part of the Covid-19 safety policy.
But after 216 days without meaningful action since the final grand prix of last season in Abu Dhabi, it was great to see F1 back in action, even if there was no surprise at the top of the timesheet.
Six-time title-winner Hamilton, with his Mercedes sporting an all-black livery as part of the team's push for greater diversity, set a time of one minute 04.816secs around a circuit that is the fastest on the calendar.
As a guide, there is plenty to come from all concerned as that time is 1.8s off last year's pole position of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
Valtteri Bottas made it a Mercedes one-two, with the Finn 0.356s behind the Briton, followed by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, with all three on the fastest soft tyre.
Winner of the last two races in Austria, Verstappen endured a spin coming out of turn one as he started his first true flying lap on soft tyres with 15 minutes remaining.
But it failed to deter the Dutchman as he moved up to third with a time 0.602s down on Hamilton.
McLaren's Carlos Sainz, who will be switching to Ferrari for next season, continued with the form he displayed at the end of last term, finishing fourth, just 0.013s behind Verstappen.
Racing Point's Sergio Perez, in the RP20 that has been dubbed the 'pink Mercedes' given its similarities to last year's title-winning Mercedes, was fifth quickest, just under seven-tenths of a second adrift of Hamilton.
There was a moment of concern for the team early on when smoke was seen coming from the car, but following a swift investigation, he was soon sent on his way, with his time offering early promise.
McLaren's Lando Norris and Red Bull's Alex Albon were the only other drivers to finish within a second of Hamilton, while Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc completed the top 10. Ricciardo and Leclerc were both on the medium compound.
For Magnussen's team-mate Romain Grosjean, the 90-minute session proved almost a washout as he managed no more than three installation laps before a brake pressure problem confined him to the garage until the dying moments, with a time 41.5s down on Hamilton.
As for Sebastian Vettel, with both he and team-mate Leclerc already predicting a tough season ahead, the four-time champion was 12th quickest, 1.261s down, but also on the medium compound.
Following a tough time in pre-season testing, Ferrari has confirmed it has no upgrades for the opening two races in Austria as it has altered its development path.
Renault's Esteban Ocon had his session cut short by 15 minutes after a piece of bodywork fell off the car along the main straight, with the team investigating. On his return to F1, the Frenchman was 13th quickest.
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