Formula 1 has at last made its long-awaited return but was met by uncanny silence as the sport staged its first event without fans in its 70-year history amid its new norm.
Unsurprisingly, defending world champions Mercedes would head the timesheets with Lewis Hamilton dominating the session, leading home teammate Valtteri Bottas by three-tenths in a Merc 1-2.
Last year’s race winner Max Verstappen would ruin his first flying lap on the soft compound tyres with a high-speed spin at Turn 1. But the Dutch driver would eventually put a competitive lap time in at the end of the session to finish third fastest, six-tenths down on Hamilton’s lap time.
Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz would finish the opening practice in fourth as McLaren ahead of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez. The key mid-field runners were separated by a whisker as each team set about to lay down a representative lap time before Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Spots of rain in the opening stages of the session threatened to upset proceedings and was enough for a handful of teams to head out on the Intermediate tyres.
Fortunately, any signs of inclement weather quickly dissipated and after 15 minutes McLaren’s Lando Norris would set the first competitive time of the day.
The Brit’s time would quickly be usurped by incumbent world champion Hamilton as the new-look Black Mercedes team set about to maximise their on-track running with several key figures keeping on close eye on the squad’s controversial DAS system which will be used for the first time in a race this weekend.
Haas suffered a tumultuous return as Romain Grosjean lost brake pressure on the run up to Turn 3 and would be sat sidelined for the remainder of the session.
Perez gave Mercedes and his Racing Point outfit a startle when his car started expelling vast amounts of smoke under braking. Though a quick return to the pitlane would suggest the smoke was merely a consequence of a small oil leak.
Ferrari enters the weekend with a car said to be unchanged from pre-season testing and spent the majority of the session languishing on the fringes of the Top 10 as the Scuderia largely focused their session on race preparation work, meaning they opted not to run the soft tyre at all today.
The final ten minutes saw a myriad of drivers take to the circuit on the faster soft tyres but the session was nearly interrupted when Pierre Gasly spun at the final turn right in front of a hard-charging George Russell.
Fortunately, the session remained green for the whole 90-minute session with no one able to challenge the Mercedes duo who comfortably claimed a 1-2 in a powerful statement to the rest of the grid.
Formula 1 will have one more practice session tonight with FP2 set to go ahead at 1 am NZT.
|3||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.602|
|5||Sergio Perez||Racing Point||+0.696|
|7||Alex Albon||Red Bull||+0.885|
|11||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+1.258|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1.544|
|15||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1.549|