With atrocious weather set to strike the Red Bull Ring tomorrow, Sergio Perez has topped the calm before the storm in the opening practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.
An eight-time podium finisher, Perez set a best lap time of a 1.04.867 in the final third of the session, fending off a last gasp attempt by Verstappen to topple the Mexican to suggest Racing Point’s strong performance last weekend was little fluke.
Max Verstappen would end up 0.096 seconds down on his Racing Point rival, both donning the soft compound of tyres in late session qualifying sim.
Despite their omission from the head of the timesheets, Mercedes continued their vice-like grip on the field with both incumbent world champion Lewis Hamilton and current championship leader Valtteri Bottas seeing out their practice programmes on the medium compound of tyre.
The Silver Arrow stablemates ended the session third and fourth with the Finn besting Hamilton’s best time by 0.031s
Lance Stroll had a set a lap time strong enough to challenge the leading trio, but the ex-Toyota Racing Series champion had his time deleted for abusing track limits at turn 10. Stroll would end the session fifth fastest, half-a-second down on his teammate.
Red Bull confirmed the strong pace they had from last week with Alexander Albon ensuring both cars would finish inside the Top-six.
Having fast-dated the first lot of their upgrades in an attempt to bridge the gap to the front runners, Ferrari were once again evidently frustrated with their lack of performance as the Italian outfit continues to battle aerodynamic flaws and lacklustre straight-line speed of the duff SF1000.
Both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc sported the grippier soft compound tyres but could only string together 10th and 12th respectively.
The session was briefly suspended as the Williams of Nicholas Latifi suffered a gearbox failure at Turn 3. The F2 graduate was able to make it to Turn 4 before parking the FW43 gently alongside the Armco barrier requiring the assistance of the marshals to recover the stricken car.
Haas’ season-opening woes continued to manifest with Kevin Magnussen sat grounded in the pitlane for most of the session as the team tended to the car’s floor. Consequently, the Dane failed to set a timed lap and ended the session last of all the runners.
A more restrained session by McLaren had Carlos Sainz the team’s lone driver to crack the top-10, ending the 90-minute session in seventh with last weekend’s star performer Lando Norris was down in an uncharacteristic 14th.
Formula 1 will have one further practice session to close out the day with lap times to be crucial as they could potentially be used to set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix if tomorrow’s thunderstorms do cause qualifying to be axed.