French GP: Bottas leads Mercedes 1-2 in FP1, Verstappen in third

Valtteri Bottas topped the first practice session for the French Grand Prix, as Mercedes finish 1-2 to banish the nightmares from Baku.

After two years away, Formula 1 returns to Circuit Paul Ricard as the French Grand Prix was one of many casualties of coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Haas’ Mick Schumacher had a difficult start to the session as the German ran off at Turn 3 and made slight contact with the wall within minutes from the green light.

He was quickly followed by fellow rookie driver Yuki Tsunoda when he spun at the final corner ahead of his first flying lap.

Valtteri Bottas also struggled early on in the morning after he went wide at Turn 2 and suffered significant damage on his front wing, prompting Mercedes’ Ron Meadows to voice their concerns to Michael Masi about the aggressiveness of the kerb.

However, that didn’t affect the Finn’s session as he went fastest overall with a time of 1:33.448; a seemingly perfect start to the weekend for Mercedes in the opening practice session, with Lewis Hamilton three-tenths slower than Bottas.

Although no driver who has led the first practice session has gone onto win the Grand Prix so far this season. 

Max Verstappen expressed concerns with his front axle in the early part of the session, but that was quickly fixed and the Dutchman finished the morning as third fastest, four-tenths slower than the Finn. 

Whilst Perez, who claimed his first victory as a Red Bull driver at the Azerbaijan GP, was fourth quickest but seven-tenths behind the leader, with Red Bull looking to continue their dominance over Mercedes into this weekend.

Esteban Ocon celebrated his return to his home Grand Prix by signing a new three-year deal with Alpine on Thursday, and will be pleased with how the first session turned out, finishing fifth fastest and out-doing his team-mate Fernando Alonso who was in seventh. 

McLaren had both drivers in the top-10, Daniel Ricciardo in sixth and Lando Norris in ninth, making it a good session especially compared to their rivals Ferrari.

The Italian-based team failed to have a single driver in the top-10 with Charles Leclerc finishing in sixth and aiming for a third consecutive pole position. Carlos Sainz was sixteenth after he spun his car at Turn 2 and damaged his tyres.

Both AlphaTauri drivers finished off the top-10 classification, as Pierre Gasly (celebrating his home Grand Prix) finished in eighth and Tsunoda in tenth.