Mercedes reclaimed its position at the top of the field in the opening practice session for this weekend’s French Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas clocked in fastest, just 0.335s ahead of Lewis Hamilton, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez following close behind, while Alpine’s Esteban ocon rounded off the top five.

    French Grand Prix Free Practice 1 – Results

Conditions were predictably warm and sunny for Formula 1’s return to Paul Ricard after a two-year absence due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Teams were also delighted to return to a traditional track and layout after suffering the urban pitfalls of Monaco and Baku.

McLaren’s drivers took to the track with their cars sporting a heartfelt tribute to the late Mansour Ojjeh who passed earlier this month.

Installation laps and aero rakes were the norm at the outset while Bottas returned to the pits in short order after running over the exit kerbs and damaging his front wing, an incident that Mercedes sporting director was none too pleased with as he radioed in to FIA race director Michael Masi to complain about the sausage kerbs and the damage they had caused.

Verstappen and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz traded places at the top of the timesheet, but the Dutchman established the first serious benchmark at 1m34.139s.

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel suffered a big moment at the fast Turn 11 Beausset curve, but the German succeeded in hauling his car back to the pits with little apparent damage, save for a destroyed set of tyres.

Thirty minutes in to the session, Bottas and Hamilton sprung to the top, with both drivers running on the soft tyre and the Finn pumping in a 1m33.448s that edged his teammate by 0.335s.

Heading into the final ten minutes of the session the positions remained unchanged with the Mercedes pair heading its Red Bull counterparts, with Verstappen sat ahead of Perez.

Behind the front-running group, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon concluded the morning P5, leading McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Fernando Alonso, while AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda completed the top ten.

Both Leclerc and Sainz were disappointingly relegated to the second half of the field in FP1, as were Team Silverstone’s Vettel and Lance Stroll and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen.

The final four in the pecking order were shared among the Williams and Haas drivers, with the former’s development driver Roy Nissany – who was replacing George Russell in FP1 – closing out the field for his third free practice session of the season.

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