Vettel on top in opening practice, Hamilton third
Ferrari’s Formula One title contender Sebastian Vettel set the pace in first practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Friday with a quarter of the 20-car starting grid already facing penalties for Sunday’s race.
The German lapped the Sochi circuit with a best time of 1 minute 34.488 seconds, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen a mere 0.050 seconds slower and championship leader Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes.
Hamilton, 0.330 off the pace but on the slower soft tire rather than the hypersoft used by Vettel and Verstappen, leads his fellow four-time world champion by 40 points with six races remaining.
Vettel is running out of time to rein in Hamilton, who has seven victories to his credit this season including four of the last five.
Verstappen turns 21 on Sunday but his chances of be- coming the first 20-year-old to take a pole position became nonexistent when he was one of five drivers listed with confirmed engine penalties.
The Dutch driver would normally have to start from the back of the grid but where exactly he will line up remained uncertain due to the number of similar penalties handed out.
Verstappen’s Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley as well as McLaren’s Fernando Alonso were also hit with grid drops to the back of the field.
Vettel took pole in Sochi last year but victory went to Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas with Mercedes still unbeaten since the race’s debut in 2014.
Ricciardo was fifth fastest, behind Bottas, but sat out much of the session with mechanics working on his car on an otherwise uneventful morning.