Bottas heads Hamilton in Sochi practice as Mercedes lays down early marker

The AMG Mercedes F1 team continued its dominance of the 2020 Formula One season as Valtteri Bottas topped Friday’s free practice times for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas’ leading time of 1m33.519s, set on the soft compound tyre, was just 0.267s ahead of the runaway championship leader, although the Englishman made an error in the final sector that could have toppled his teammate.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo confirmed Renault’s recent resurgence by clocking the third fastest time, ahead of the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Next came the Racing Point of Sergio Perez, but it was a strangely subdued performance from the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon, who could only manage the 7th and 12th fastest times respectively.

“Even for us, it doesn’t really feel that great out there,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “The grip is quite poor and there is a lot of sliding around, so a bit surprised to see that gap. It must feel even worse for those that are behind. But the track will grip up and things might close up tomorrow.”

The session was not without incident, however, as drivers pushed the boundaries of what is a notoriously testing circuit, featuring some tricky off-camber corners. Carlos Sainz was the first to bring out a yellow flag, spinning backwards into the barrier at Turn 7 and destroying his rear wing in the process, whilst Nicholas Latifi suffered a similar snap-oversteer moment, losing control at Turn 10 and impacting with the barriers.

It all makes for an interesting weekend ahead and one that Bottas and Verstappen simply have to cash in on to have any chance of putting pressure on Hamilton’s quest for a seemingly inevitable seventh drivers’ title. And should Hamilton win again on a circuit where Mercedes have never lost, he will achieve the significant milestone of equalling the great Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 grand prix victories.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.