Verstappen dominates opening practice for Austrian Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen races during the first practice session at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg, Austria, July 8, 2022, ahead of the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix. — AFP pic

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen races during the first practice session at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg, Austria, July 8, 2022, ahead of the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix. — AFP pic

Friday, 08 Jul 2022 10:28 PM MYT

SPIELBERG BEI KNITTELFELD (Austria), July 8 — Max Verstappen monopolised first practice for the Austrian Grand Prix today to underline his status as the one to beat this weekend at the circuit owned by his Red Bull team.

The world champion has an impressive record at the charming compact track set in the Styrian countryside, winning four of the past six races.

And after a dry session the Dutch driver topped the time sheets by .255s from the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

Mercedes’ George Russell was four tenths of a second back in third with Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton completing the top five.

Teams faced a tricky morning trying to glean as much data as possible in half the time due to the staging tomorrow of the season’s second sprint race.

Qualifying later today shapes the grid for the 100km dash, with the sprint’s finishing order in turn producing the grid for Sunday’s 11th round of the 22-race calendar.

Verstappen, who leads the world championship by 34 points, will have his sights set on repeating his feat at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix when he claimed the sprint, race and fastest lap for all 34 points on offer at Monza.

For McLaren, it was not the best of sessions, with Lando Norris having to climb out of his car reporting smoke coming from underneath his seat to trigger the first red flag after 20 minutes.

Cars were back out on the track with over half an hour left on the clock.

A second stoppage to clear debris a little later deprived teams of more precious minutes as they fine-tuned their set ups for qualifying at 1500GMT.

Zhou Guanyu may not have set the session alight in his Alfa Romeo but the Chinese driver was just relieved to be in action after his horror crash at Silverstone last weekend.

His teammate Valtteri Bottas meanwhile will start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid due to penalties incurred by the fitting of a raft of new engine components to his car. — AFP