RACE DEBRIEF

    Under crisp, clear skies at Imola, it was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas got his Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend off to the best start, heading Free Practice 1 from his team mate Lewis Hamilton. But there was drama as an incident between Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon brought out a red flag and curtailed the drivers’ running – with Haas’ Nikita Mazepin bringing out a second one at the tail end of the session.

    Bottas ended the hour-long FP1 session with a best time of 1m 16.564s – some two seconds slower than the best practice time last year. But there was a tight fight behind the Finn, as he ended up just 0.041s up on Hamilton – and a mere 0.058s ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

    AS IT HAPPENED: All the action from opening practice in Imola

    There was also drama, as 20 minutes from the end, cameras picked up a shot of Perez’s spinning Red Bull RB16B, with the Mexican’s car appearing to have suffered a puncture as a result of contact with Ocon’s Alpine at the Villeneuve chicane, which also pulled up trackside and had to be craned away.

    A red flag was the result, leaving the majority of drivers rushing to complete their quick runs when the session was restarted with 12 minutes to go. Ocon and Perez were both called to the stewards to explain themselves, but no further action was taken, following a hearing.

    Formula 1 Pirelli Gran Premio Del Made In Italy E Dell'emilia Romagna 2021

    Italy 2021

    Practice 1 results

    POSITION TIME
    1 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes 1:16.564
    2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes +0.041s
    3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing +0.058s
    4 Pierre Gasly GAS AlphaTauri +0.324s
    5 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari +0.324s

    Behind the top three, Charles Leclerc popped himself into a promising P4 for Ferrari, ahead of the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly in fifth – Gasly looking fast once again at Imola, as he did last year. Leclerc’s team mate Carlos Sainz was P6, ahead of 2005 San Marino Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso in P7 for Alpine – the Spaniard having spent the early part of the session running aero rakes, as the team look to dial in their new upgrade.

    READ MORE: It should be advantage Red Bull as F1 arrives in Imola – but can they make it count this time?

    Rounding out the top 10 came the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll in eighth, ahead of Nicholas Latifi’s Williams – the Canadian overcoming an off-track moment at Rivazza 1 to take an impressive ninth – with Daniel Ricciardo the leading McLaren in P10.

    That might not be the true picture, however, with Haas driver Mazepin suffering a second spin of the morning after the chequered flag had flown and crashing into the wall on the exit of Rivazza 2 – bringing out the session’s second red flag, and hurting a number of drivers’ final efforts.

    FP1 Highlights: 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

    That left the second Williams of George Russell P11, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren’s Lando Norris and the second Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel in P14.

    READ MORE: 'I need to improve myself more than the car' says Alonso ahead of second race of F1 comeback

    Home hero Antonio Giovinazzi was P15, ahead of the two colliders Perez and Ocon – with Mazepin slotting into P18, ahead of team mate Mick Schumacher. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the order, the Japanese driver having overcome an off-track moment at Tamburello early on in the session.

    So it was advantage Mercedes as the running got under way. But let’s wait to see how Red Bull fight back when FP2 gets under way at 1430 local time.