Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

Bottas leads Mercedes one-two as practice begins at Sochi

2021 Russian Grand Prix first practice

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Mercedes showed their usual pace around Sochi in the first practice session for the Russian Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton headed the the times in their W12s. However Max Verstappen was just two-tenths away from the pace in his Red Bull.

The session started warm and dry, track temperatures rising after a slippery start to the Formula 3 practice session earlier in the morning.

With heavy rain a threat to Saturday’s sessions, drivers were keen to get out of the pits early and log some laps. After being penalised for an incorrectly-positioned practice start during last year’s race, Hamilton was reminded by engineer Pete Bonnington to only do them at the start of the pit lane, as he was one of the first cars to head out.

Charles Leclerc, who has taken a new power unit this weekend, set an early fast time, leading the first 10 minutes of the session. He was beaten by the Mercedes pair, initially running hard tyres while the Ferrari’s time had been set on softs. Bottas took the lead over Hamilton, extending a

Max Verstappen claimed the fastest time after 20 minutes of running, despite the Red Bull driver complaining that the regenerative settings on his car were “horrible” and that it was trying to recharge as he wanted to accelerate. Verstappen set his time on soft tyres, while Mercedes held their faster runs in hand.

By the halfway point both Hamilton and Bottas had started their soft tyre runs, initially well ahead of any other cars, setting times in the 1’34 while other drivers had been 1’35 or higher on their best laps at that point.

Lando Norris had the first of two minor incidents during the session as he was going for a second fast lap, running wide at turn 10 and picking up paint on his tyres. The second occured as he returned to the pits after the chequered flag, clipping the pit wall and spinning at the pit entrance. The McLaren driver sounded confused about the incident himself, telling the team “Err, I’ve just crashed” as he righted the car and came in with minor front wing damage.

Pierre Gasly was typically high up in the mix, with team mate Yuki Tsunoda further back, as has often been the case in practice this year. Following the chequered flag, Tsunoda described the car as “so nervous” in a radio message to his engineer. A strong lap from Gasly midway through the session put him into the top five, only to be beaten by Sebastian Vettel late in the session.

Sergio Perez, who favours Sochi as a track, was ninth fastest – behind both Ferrari cars, Vettel, Gasly and Norris. Of the two Alpine drivers, only Fernando Alonso was able to breach the top 10, fractionally ahead of team mate Esteban Ocon.

2021 Russian Grand Prix first practice result

Pos.No.DriverCarBest lapGapLaps
177Valtteri BottasMercedes1’34.42725
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’34.6380.21123
333Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’34.6540.22713
416Charles LeclercFerrari1’35.1170.69022
55Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’35.7811.35423
610Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’35.7941.36724
755Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’35.8111.38425
84Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’35.9591.53224
911Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’36.1881.76122
1014Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’36.2251.79821
1131Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’36.2361.80925
1218Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’36.5222.09521
1399Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’36.7952.36823
143Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’36.8772.45023
157Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’36.9522.52520
1622Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’37.7943.36726
1763George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’38.0133.58623
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’38.1553.72821
199Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’38.5864.15922
2047Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’38.9774.55023

First practice visual gaps

Valtteri Bottas – 1’34.427

+0.211 Lewis Hamilton – 1’34.638

+0.227 Max Verstappen – 1’34.654

+0.690 Charles Leclerc – 1’35.117

+1.354 Sebastian Vettel – 1’35.781

+1.367 Pierre Gasly – 1’35.794

+1.384 Carlos Sainz Jnr – 1’35.811

+1.532 Lando Norris – 1’35.959

+1.761 Sergio Perez – 1’36.188

+1.798 Fernando Alonso – 1’36.225

+1.809 Esteban Ocon – 1’36.236

+2.095 Lance Stroll – 1’36.522

+2.368 Antonio Giovinazzi – 1’36.795

+2.450 Daniel Ricciardo – 1’36.877

+2.525 Kimi Raikkonen – 1’36.952

+3.367 Yuki Tsunoda – 1’37.794

+3.586 George Russell – 1’38.013

+3.728 Nicholas Latifi – 1’38.155

+4.159 Nikita Mazepin – 1’38.586

+4.550 Mick Schumacher – 1’38.977

Drivers more then ten seconds off the pace omitted.

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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10 comments on “Bottas leads Mercedes one-two as practice begins at Sochi”

  1. Hope Charles’ pace is all because of the new engine. If so, that seems to be a good 4-5 tenths step forward!

  2. I know it is only FP1, but Perez… I hope he is testing super long runs to justify this gap.

  3. Nothing unusual. Since Silverstone the Merc is on top. Only in Zandvoort they lacked a bit, but even there Lewis could easily stay within 2-3sec .

    In Spa Max was lucky. In a dry weekend he would have battled with the MCL for 3rd.

    This championship is Lewis’ to lose.

    1. I dont agree, he is still behind in terms of points and youthness. Championship belongs to Max unless he makes a mistake. If he gives exactly the same until now he will win, but he will eventually make mistakes. He could use exactly the same method and take out Hamilton on Merc tracks, that will help and the only way to stop merc.

      1. Yes, that is a clever method (also responding to the many points lost the same way earlier on) if you can do that without being suspended for races.

    2. @trib4udi Red Bull always runs on Friday with more fuel in the car. Fuel corrected they are almost always faster on Friday. And in FP3 usually half a second up or so on Mercedes. Hamilton can usually claw back a few tenths in Q3, but not that much.

  4. I wouldnt want to be Verstappens teammate..

    Offcorse times mean little, but Bottas seems to be comfortable.

    Maybe pressure of constantly loosing the seat for years was getting to him.

    Both Verstappen and Hamilton might be well served by an engine change.

  5. all the people who says perez is better than bottas, just go out and take a cold shower. Perez maybe the second best guy after Ricciardo, but no way he is better than Bottas. If Riccy stayed at RBR he would have shown the same result as Bottas, so, bravo Bottas. But since the competition is that good merc needs to bring someone who can beat Max, as it seems Lewis won’t have enough energy next year. Time to go.

    1. Absolutely, perez is overrated and bottas underrated, were it not for russell bottas would’ve stayed at merc no problem, he’s simply performing a lot closer to his number 1 than perez is.

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