FP1: Ricciardo edges Hamilton in close German opener
Are Red Bull back in the game for Hockenheim? First practice certainly boded well, as Daniel Ricciardo out-paced Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just 0.004s, with team mate Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel hot on their heels.
The bad news for Red Bull is that despite their speed, power unit changes mean Ricciardo already knows he must start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid.
Over a warm and sunny 90 minutes there was little to choose between the top three teams, with only 0.7s covering the top six drivers. The newly-confirmed-for-2019 Valtteri Bottas took fifth for Mercedes, with fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen sixth for Ferrari.
Haas were best of the rest, just over a second off the leading pace, with Romain Grosjean heading team mate Kevin Magnussen. Sauber's Charles Leclerc and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg completed the top ten.
At Sauber, test driver Antonio Giovinazzi got an outing in place of Marcus Ericsson. The Italian, 19th in the times, will remember his session for his engine cover flying off 30 minutes in, forcing the Italian to creep back to the pits with an exposed Ferrari power unit.
The other Friday driver in action was Nicolas Latifi, who finished 17th in Esteban Ocon’s Force India.
Turn 12 proved among the most challenging corners, with several drivers running wide there, some doing minor bodywork damage over the kerbs. The only man to run off, however, was Hulkenberg, who hurtled through the gravel before returning to the circuit.
Fortunately the German did not have Renault’s new front wing on his car at the time, which the team were back-to-back testing with their older design.
The team to complete the least running, by some margin, were McLaren. Fernando Alonso, 12th, and Stoffel Vandoorne, 20th, racked up just 27 laps between them. However, the team reported no issues as they focused on a largely non-Hockenheim specific programme.
We now look ahead to second practice this afternoon – and hope for further signs of a three-team fight for German victory this weekend!