BERLIN: Sebastian Vettel led Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari one-two in first practice at the German Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was third, 0.302 seconds behind Vettel, but his time was set on a harder tyre compound. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas was fifth fastest, behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and the Finn ended the session with an off at the Sachs Kurve.
Bottas lost control at the same corner at which Vettel crashed and threw away victory in his home race last year. The Mercedes driver managed to avoid the barriers and was able to rejoin the track. He had also earlier run very wide out of the last corner. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was another in the wars, having a spin at the high-speed first corner without damage.
Ferrari’s initial pace in this first session was an encouraging start for a team that is still to win a race this season but it would be wrong to read too much into it. For a start, Vettel and Leclerc were on the soft tyre for their fastest times, and Hamilton on the slower medium when he set his. And the Mercedes were 0.3secs quicker than Leclerc when both were on the fastest ‘soft’ tyre in the first part of the session.
Earlier in the session, when Bottas led the way from Hamilton and Leclerc all running softs, Verstappen was running mediums and was only 0.3secs off the front and more or less at the same pace as the Ferrari. Adding to the complication, the weather is expected to change significantly into the weekend. Friday at Hockenheim is hot, with temperatures in the mid 30Cs, but the temperature is expected to drop by 10C on Saturday and rain is predicted on both days over the weekend.
Behind Bottas and Verstappen’s team-mate Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz’s McLaren was best of the rest in seventh, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas, Lance Stroll’s Racing Point and Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault. A number of teams have major upgrades on their cars for this weekend, particularly Racing Point and Williams.
Stroll’s pace was encouraging for that team and the Williams upgrades also appear to have made a significant difference. Robert Kubica is running the new parts on Friday and was 0.6secs quicker than George Russell in the standard car, when the order is normally a similar margin the other way around. Russell’s car will be fitted with the upgrades for the weekend, assuming the team establish they have been an improvement.