Ashen skies and spots of rain in FP1 did nothing to dampen collective spirits as Formula 1 cars returned to the track together for the first time in 126 days. And, amidst the glorious chorus of V6 engines, Mercedes rose to the occasion with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas topping the session ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Hamilton’s time of 1m04.968s was set on soft tyres, as were those of the next six in the standings. It was a powerful statement for the reigning champion, returning to F1 at the top and beating last year’s FP1 time by 0.022s, but not quite as powerful as his W11 car’s striking black livery to show the team’s commitment to diversity and anti-racism.
Bottas finished 0.356s off his team mate’s pace, both drivers still using their intriguing DAS – Dual Axis Steering system – to trim precious milliseconds off their laptimes after the device made its debut in pre-season testing.
Rain fell in the first 30 minutes of the session, but only a couple of laps were run on intermediate tyres before slicks were fitted again, and it was then that times began to tumble on a gripper surface. Soft tyres were used by Max Verstappen to finish third fastest – under three-tenths off Bottas – after a Turn 1 spin with 20 minutes remaining as he collected too much of the damp kerbs on entry. The 2019 Austrian Grand Prix winner was just 0.013s ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who will leave for Ferrari at the end of the season.
Rounding out the top five was Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, with under a tenth of a second splitting him and third-place Verstappen. His RP20 has courted attention as it strongly resembles Mercedes’ 2019 championship-winning W10, though it remains to be seen if Mercedes’ performance can also be emulated by the Silverstone-based team.