Russian GP: Verstappen quickest for Red Bull after Friday practice

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen set the early pace ahead of the Russian Grand Prix weekend, heading Friday’s free practice lap times from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen, who was second quickest on the softer Pirelli compound in the morning session from Leclerc, reversed the roles in the afternoon with a 1m33.162s mark as the lap times improved on a bedded-in Sochi Autodrom circuit.

Singapore Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel was fifth quickest in the second Ferrari, from Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso, Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. Lance Stroll and Alexander Albon completed the top ten runners after a relatively trouble-free Friday’s running.

The day was not entirely without incident, however, Daniel Ricciardo spinning at Turn 10 towards the end of the morning session, returning to the pits with a broken rear wing. Robert Kubica, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez also suffered minor spins in testing the track limits and there was further woe for the second Toro Rosso of home favourite Daniil Kvyat, the Russian stopping with an engine problem only laps into the session, despite it being a new Power Unit.

The only blessing in disguise for Kvyat is that he already has a grid penalty for an engine change, and knew he’d already be starting from the back of the grid. And regardless of what happens in Saturday’s qualifying session, Verstappen, Gasly and Albon also have five place grid penalties.

So, what does Friday tell us about the weekend to come and the much-anticipated next chapter of the more competitive Ferrari vs Mercedes battle? Bottas completed significantly more laps than the competition, both he and Hamilton running the medium compound in the morning session, whilst rivals Leclerc, Vettel and Verstappen were on the softs.

Interestingly, however, Bottas was 0.152s faster than his illustrious Mercedes teammate in the afternoon on the softer compound whilst Vettel, who must have hoped his woes were behind him, made a series of errors and was forced to abort several quick laps.

Verstappen’s Friday pace leads one to believe he could well be a fly in the Ferrari vs Mercedes ointment, although Mercedes have won every grand prix at the Sochi Autodrom since the first race in 2017. All things considered; it promises to be yet another intriguing race weekend.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.