Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen carried on where he left off last weekend, topping the first practice session Friday at the Austrian Grand Prix on Red Bull’s home track.
The Dutch driver won here last Sunday to extend his lead over defending champion Lewis Hamilton to 18 points after eight races, and the hordes of orange-clad Dutch fans will hope for a repeat success on Sunday.
Verstappen led from two Ferraris, with Charles Leclerc .266 behind him in second place and Carlos Sainz Jr. placing .288 in third.
It was not a good start for Hamilton, who was seventh for Mercedes and had an early lap time deleted for going off track limits.
There is a second practice session later Friday.
Cool and overcast conditions made it difficult to get proper tire grip. Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda struggled to control his AlphaTauri and went off into gravel, while Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll veered off into a grassy area. He later went off into gravel and complained that his tires were “done.”
Hamilton also had issues with his tires.
“Tires are nowhere near ready,” he said over team radio with a few minutes left.
His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas fared better, placing fourth.
Meanwhile, Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu, the F2 championship leader, made his debut for the Alpine team and was 14th.
“Thank you so much for this experience, everyone, I absolutely loved it,” the 21-year-old Zhou told his team at the end.
He is Alpine’s test driver and replaced two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso for this session only.
The last Chinese driver in F1 was eight years ago, when Ma Qing Hua drove in practice for Caterham.
Large crowds gathered around the Red Bull Ring, nestled in the Styrian mountains, with hundreds of tents spreading across surrounding fields in makeshift campsites.
The weather could play a part in the race, with cloudy conditions forecast for Saturday’s qualifying and thunderstorms predicted for Sunday’s race.
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