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Bottas sets opening pace as teams stick to softs


Ahead of today's opening practice session the air temperature is 25.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32.7 degrees.

The sky is blue, barely a cloud in the sky and it's warm... and due to get a lot warmer.

The two big stories going into this session both involve Racing Point.

Having tested positive again, Sergio Perez will miss this weekend's race and will be replace once again by Nico Hulkenberg.

The other big story is the result of Renault's protest of the RP20s, Racing Point having been fined $400,000 and docked 15 points.

However, the whole investigation - and the punishment - has posed more questions than it has answered.

The other big topics is tyres, Pirelli having stuck with its original plan to provide compounds a step softer than those used last week. While the FIA has 'improved' the kerb at Becketts that is thought to have cause many of the problems, the Italian manufacturer is also relying on the teams to use common sense in terms of how long they can run on one set of tyres.

In the moments before the start of the session, Honda announces that "as part of our PU strategy for the season, we are introducing new PUs for the two Red Bull drivers at this event. This gives us greater flexibility in terms of PU management. The new PUs are the same specification as the ones coming out.

"Fr the time being, we are not making the change at AlphaTauri," it adds. "This is because Gasly has already used a second PU from Sunday in Hungary and with Kvyat, we want to evaluate his PU following his crash last weekend."

The lights go green and in no time at all there are 15 drivers on track, Hamilton and the Ferrari pair the 'no shows'.

"Something is going on with my headrest," complains Kvyat.

Hamilton finally heads out, while Verstappen, Norris and Sainz stay out for a second lap.

Following a short lull, Raikkonen and Norris head out. Still no sign of the Ferraris.

Raikkonen takes a long trip over the grass after exiting Aintree. Undaunted, the Finn goes on to post the first time of the weekend (29.395).

Shortly after, Vettel heads out and immediately posts a 28.520. Elsewhere, teammate Leclerc heads out.

The Monegasque subsequently posts a 28.306.

Kubica, the only reserve driver on duty this morning, heads out in the Alfa Romeo.

All running thus far has been on softs as the teams evaluate the red-banded rubber compared to last week.

Following last week's issues, Vettel appears to be running the same low downforce spec as his teammate.

Grosjean posts 29.160, to go fourth, ahead of Magnussen, Ricciardo and Kubica.

A 28.460 sees Albon go thirds as Vettel raises the bar with a 27.962.

After just 2 laps, Albon feels his tyres are gone, certainly in Turns 12 and 13.

Leclerc retakes the top spot with a 27.544.

Stroll goes fourth (28.581) and Gasly fifth (28.637).

As Norris goes fourth (28.082), Bottas heads out. "I'm in limp mode," reports the Finn, before subsequently revealing that "it's alright now."

As Bottas begins his first flying lap, teammate Hamilton heads out.

Hulkenberg's engineer refers to the German as "Checo".

Bottas posts 27.400, with Hamilton crossing the line at 26.842 moments later. His first flying lap and he's already 0.702s clear of Leclerc.

Chec... Hulkenberg goes fourth with a 27.932.

"The front-left is a bit damaged after two push laps," reports Gasly.

After 36 minutes, Verstappen is the only driver yet to post a time.

Hulkenberg reports that his tyres are not improving even after double cooling laps.

Albon posts 27.699 to go fourth.

At forty minutes, when the teams have to hand a set of tyres back to Pirelli, it's: Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Albon, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Stroll, Norris, Sainz and Gasly.

Following several minutes of inactivity, Bottas breaks the deadlock, heading down the pitlane on a fresh set of softs.

As the Finn begins his flying lap, Hamilton heads out to join him.

Quickest in all three sector (natch!), Bottas crosses the line at 26.166, 0.676s quicker than his teammate.

A PB is S1 is followed by a purple in S2, Hamilton finally crossing the line at 26.304 following a minor mistake in the final sector.

More drivers head out, all sporting the softs, while Verstappen obstinately refuses to come out and play.

Grosjean improves to 27.908, the Frenchman likely to be the centre of discussions at the drivers' briefing later today.

A mistake sees Vettel take a long trip over the grass and gravel at Aintree.

The German subsequently goes fifth with a 27.498, 0.5s down on his teammate.

Ocon goes sixth (27.701), ahead of Gasly, Grosjean and Kvyat.

Norris posts 27.846 to go ninth.

"OK, a couple of things," reports Grosjean, "I completely lost power out of 17, for some reason, and pushed too much the rear at the end of the lap."

As Verstappen finally heads out, Hulkenberg posts 26.942 to go third.

On his first flying lap, the Dutchman posts 26.893 to go third.

Verstappen complains to his engineer following a very, very close encounter with Leclerc, the Monegasque cranking up for a flying lap. The team was under the impression the Ferrari driver was on a cool down lap... he wasn't.

Such is his improved form, considering he didn't even get to the grid last week, one wonders if Hulkenberg has had a few 'filming days' in the meantime. As it stands, we wouldn't put anything past Racing Point.

With 18:40 remaining we've still yet to see anyone run on anything other than the softs.

Albon reports a lot of understeer, claiming that at one point he almost crashed. Indeed, the replay shows him struggling to hold the car through Copse.

Hulkenberg heads out again, the rear wing of his car liberally coated with flo-vis.

Other than the fact that the team is "happy" with his level of tyre management, the German is told that he's running the same pace as Bottas.

"I'm getting quite a few vibrations from the rear tyres," warns Norris, as the TV cameras confirm his fears. The Woking pair are currently 12th (Norris) and 14th.

Ocon and Gasly both report grip issues, the latter proving the pint by running wide in Brooklands.

On-board with Bottas and the smoke billows from his front-left as he locks up.

As Sainz clearly has issues with his rear-left, Verstappen naughtily cuts across Raikkonen's bow.

The session ends. Bottas is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Leclerc, Albon, Vettel, Stroll, Kvyat and Ocon.

Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Norris, Grosjean, Sainz, Russell, Latifi, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Kubica and Magnussen.

Check out our Friday gallery from Silverstone, here.


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