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The top of the leaderboard was established before lunch, when first Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and then Ricciardo jumped ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen with seconds to spare before the meal break.
Those laps were the highlight of an opening session which was less than an hour old when the red flags flew for the first time, the result of Fernando Alonso losing his right rear wheel and beaching his McLaren in the gravel.
The Spaniard missed the best part of three hours as his car was assessed, but returned to the track in the afternoon and crept up to fifth in the timesheet at the chequered flag - which then became seventh when his fastest lap was ruled out for cutting the chicane. He clocked 51 laps in the Renault-powered MCL33 in total.
That left Renault locked together in fourth and fifth courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz. The duo gave an impressive demonstration of the R.S.18’s potential as they split driving duties – a tactic also employed by Mercedes, who had world champion Lewis Hamilton take over the W09 from Bottas for a 25-lap stint in the afternoon.
Brendon Hartley offered Toro Rosso real encouragement as he completed 93 laps for the Italian team, as they ran with Honda power for the first time. That tally was only bettered by Ricciardo, who was the sole driver to crack a century of laps.
Lance Stroll was only slightly slower than Hartley as Williams got off to a quiet start, while Romain Grosjean completed the top ten for Haas.
On a day which ended in damp, gloomy conditions, the timesheet was rounded out by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Force India’s Nikita Mazepin and Williams newcomer Sergey Sirotkin.
Mazepin did not run at all in the afternoon after causing the second red flag stoppage of the day with a spin into the gravel at Turn 4, whilst Sirotkin completed 28 unrepresentative laps.