Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton edged out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for the fastest time as practice got underway in Austria on Friday morning. Using the soft tyre - the hardest of the three compounds available - Hamilton clocked the fastest time ever seen on the current iteration of the Spielberg track to go 0.190s clear of Verstappen, whose best time came on supersofts.
However Verstappen, who tagged the barriers early in the session after an off at Turn 7, was on course to pip Hamilton late in the session before a spin at Turn 3. Valtteri Bottas finished third in the second Silver Arrow, just ahead of the lead Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who was one of several drivers to spin in the session.
Kimi Raikkonen also rotated his Ferrari, eventually finishing sixth behind the Red Bull of Baku winner Daniel Ricciardo.
McLaren enjoyed an encouraging session with Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso making the most of their upgraded Honda power units to finish seventh and ninth, sandwiching Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso. Esteban Ocon rounded out the top ten for Force India.
Hamilton did 1m 06.526s on the utrasofts early on, before team mate Bottas improved that to 1m 06.345s on supersofts. Hamilton then ran a set of softs and cut his time to 1m 05.975s, which remained the fastest.
Having spent a lot of time in the garage as his car was checked over after he brushed his right rear wheel against the wall, initial pacesetter Verstappen returned later on and kept trimming his times until he got down to 1m 06.165s on supersofts. He had just taken the first sector best time away from Hamilton when he spun.
Bottas’s time held up for third, while Ferrari’s session had an interesting start. Raikkonen spun early in Turn 1, and later, running the same supersoft rubber, Vettel took a bit too much of the inside kerb and spun on the exit there.
The German eventually set the fourth best time on 1m 06.424s, and the Finn was sixth on 1m 06.848s, both on supersofts. Ricciardo separated them with 1m 06.620s on the same compound in his Red Bull. It will be interesting to see whether Ferrari can get on terms with Mercedes, or are destined to continue fighting with Red Bull in their wake.
There were several incidents on the green track besides the Ferraris and Verstappen. Lance Stroll spun his Williams in Turn 9, where Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz (twice), Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Williams’ Felipe Massa also ran wide. Bottas ran wide in Turn 1 and later spun in Turn 3, both corners where Hamilton also had momentary offs as his soft tyres wore out. Daniil Kvyat spun his Toro Rosso twice in Turn 4, and also went off in Turn 8, while team mate Sainz was another Turn 1 spinner. Esteban Ocon had a big wobble in Turn 3.
Test driver Sergey Sirotkin stood in for Nico Hulkenberg at Renault, while Force India counterpart Alfonso Celis handled Sergio Perez’s car. They were 17th and 18th respectively.