F1’s six-time champion tops the first session of the delayed 2020 season in Mercedes’ new black car; Verstappen third but spins, while McLaren and Racing Point also start strongly
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 03/07/20 11:57am
Lewis Hamilton ensured he made an emphatic start to Formula 1’s return on the first track session of the 2020 season by leading a Mercedes one-two in the team’s new-look car in Austrian GP Practice One.
Some 215 days after Hamilton took the final chequered flag of the last campaign with victory in Abu Dhabi, F1 finally commenced its new season amid strict COVID-19 protocols in the paddock and pit garages at a spectator-free Red Bull Ring.
And it was Hamilton who made the fastest start of all as Mercedes’ powerful new black, anti-racism livery made its first track appearance on the W11.
Hamilton got faster as the session progressed and ended up three tenths of a second clear of Valtteri Bottas on a 1:04.816.
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull, the track owners and winners of the last two Austrian GPs. However, the Dutchman was 0.6s off Hamilton’s pace and spun at Turn One.
McLaren finished promising fourth and sixth fastest with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris respectively, with Sergio Perez in the heavily-fancied Racing Point fifth fastest.
“It’s to be expected to see the Mercedes at the front,” said Sky F1’s Jenson Button. “What I really like is the pack behind them, it’s great to see so many teams close, within a tenth of a second. It’s going to make for a great weekend.
“I think in the next session is when we’ll see the true pace.”
Martin Brundle added: “We do know Mercedes have brought a lot of parts here, so have Red Bull, so I guess the 1-2-3 is not a huge surprise because you can’t hide your speed.”
Ferrari were down in 10th and 12th but ran on harder tyres with their early focus seemingly on race pace. The Scuderia are expecting a more difficult weekend to this race last year – when Charles Leclerc qualified on pole – with the SF1000 not featuring any updates since a disappointing testing programme.
Instead, Ferrari are working on a significant upgrade that is scheduled for the third round of the new season in Hungary in two weeks’ time.
More to follow…
The Formula 1 season begins on Friday on Sky Sports F1 with the Austrian GP. Sunday’s race starts at 2.10pm. Find out more & subscribe.