It was an unfamiliar order at the top of the standings in FP1 at the Mexican Grand Prix as Red Bull led Renault in the first practice session.
On a circuit that Red Bull has been targeting as a big victory opportunity, it was 2017 race winner Max Verstappen who set the pace with a 1m16.656s on Friday morning, ending up nearly half a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
There was very much a two-by-two order to the session, but it was Renault who finished third and fourth with Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg respectively, at a venue where it can’t run its latest specification of power unit. The two Renaults were over a second off the pace on the same hypersoft tire as Red Bull, but still ended up 0.1s clear of Lewis Hamilton in fifth.
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Valtteri Bottas was less than a quarter of a second behind his teammate in sixth as the two Mercedes drivers set the best laps on ultrasoft tires, as did the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel in seventh and Kimi Raikkonen in eighth.
United States Grand Prix winner Raikkonen suffered a spin at Turn 6 and was less than 0.1s clear of Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley — on hypersofts — in ninth, with Nicholas Latifi an impressive tenth on his latest FP1 outing for Force India.
Latifi beat home favorite Sergio Perez by just 0.046s, with Perez using the ultrasofts, as all three FP1 replacement drivers setting quicker times than their full-time teammates. Antonio Giovinazzi was 12th for Sauber, 0.2s clear of Marcus Ericsson on the same tire, while the gap between Lando Norris and Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren was just 0.07s.
Norris almost had a major incident at the end of the session as he came across a slow Force India while he was on a flying lap. Norris made an attempt to go to the inside through the high-speed changes of direction between Turn 9 and Turn 10, but had to hit the brakes and locked up, coming close to contact as he slid just behind the rear of the car ahead.
Teams carried out plenty of long running on the hypersoft compound to assess tire life, with a threat of rain for FP2 potentially limiting the opportunity for such analysis on Friday afternoon. A number of drivers complained that the tires quickly lost performance, with Hartley and Kevin Magnussen describing them as like chewing gum, while Romain Grosjean — set for a three-place grid penalty this weekend — saying it was like driving in the wet.
Pierre Gasly failed to register at time after completing just two laps in the session as part of a planned power unit change. Honda had concerns over the unit used in Austin, so it introduced a new one in Mexico that Gasly ran for two installation laps, before the team then swapped back to an older specification of engine for the rest of the race weekend. The change means Gasly will take a 15-place grid penalty.
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BY CHRIS MEDLAND
While studying Sports Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, Chris managed to talk his way into working at the British Grand Prix in 2008 and was retained for three years before joining ESPN F1 as Assistant Editor. After three years at ESPN, a spell as F1 Editor at Crash Media Group was followed by the major task of launching F1i.com’s English-language website and running it as Editor. Present at every race since the start of 2014, he has continued building his freelance portfolio, working with international titles. As well as writing for RACER, he contributes to BBC 5Live and Sky Sports in the UK as well as working with titles in Japan and the Middle East.