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Once again, Bottas sets the Friday morning pace

NEWS STORY
25/09/2020

Ahead of today's opening session at Sochi, the air temperature is 26.9 degrees C, while the track temperature is 24.4 degrees. It is bright and sunny.

A historic weekend coming up, for even if Lewis Hamilton fails to equal Michael Schumacher's record of 91 Grand Prix wins, Kimi Raikkonen will surely equal Rubens Barrichello of 322 starts... and we're sure some of you recall that it wasn't that long ago that Max Mosley was suggesting the Finn was too young and inexperienced to enter F1.

The lights go green and Verstappen, who has been waiting at the end of the piltane for some time, gets things underway. He is followed by Gasly, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Albon and Norris.

Of course, following successive DNFs Verstappen will be keen to get his season back on track, the Dutchman increasingly concerned at the Honda power unit's reliability.

As was the case at Mugello, we have a welcome sight... fans in the stands.

As more drivers head out there's a fair mixture of all three compounds.

Just five minutes in and all twenty drivers have made an appearance. No times on the board mind, but at least all 20 have been out.

As has been reported, only Stroll will be running the upgrade package this weekend at Racing Point, while at McLaren, Norris is to continue with the Mercedes-influenced nose seen at Mugello and front wing with further upgrades expected over the weekend.

The Black Arrows finally light up the timing screens, Hamilton posting 1:37.716 and Bottas a 37.313. The Finn is on mediums and his teammate hards as the German team continues its practice of splitting strategies.

Stroll is advised of a tailwind into T13.

Having posted their opening times - if you get what we mean - the Mercedes duo head back to the pits as silence descends.

Finally, Albon and Kvyat head out to provide the fans with something to look at.

Kvyat (mediums) splits the Mercedes with a 37.633, while Albon (hards) posts 38.364.

At which point more drivers head out.

Perez posts 37.304 on the mediums,. While Magnussen goes third, ahead of Kvyat, Hamilton, Albon, Sainz and Ricciardo.

In no time at all we have 14 names on the board, the last of them being Vettel who posts 39.441... on the softs.

A 37.124 sees local boy Kvyat go top.

Verstappen goes sixth on the hards, ahead of Leclerc who, like his teammate, is on softs.

Ricciardo goes top (36.852) on the hards but is subsequently demoted by his former teammate (Verstappen) who stops the clock at 36.751.

Stroll is the first driver to have his time deleted, the Canadian having exceeded the track limits at T2.

After 30 minutes the only driver that hasn't posted a time is Giovinazzi.

On the softs, Bottas goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 34.923, a full 1.828s quicker than Verstappen, albeit on the hards.

"I will need some help on you know what," admits Grosjean. Whatever could he mean?

Out come the yellows as Sainz spins in T7 loses his rear wing in the process.

The VSC is deployed as the Spaniard, on his way back to the pits, is told to slow.

Replay shows he carried too much speed into T7 and in the process ran over the kerb and then the dusty run-off. Meanwhile, at T15, Kvyat was having a spin of his own.

As the session remains under the VSC, allowing the debris to be cleared, it's: Bottas, Perez, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Gasly, Sainz, Kvyat, Ocon and Stroll.

The VSC is withdrawn, but by this time there are only four drivers on track, among them Giovinazzi.

All of which coincides with the point at which the drivers have to hand back a set of tyres, so once again the circuit falls silent.

Andreas Seidl expresses doubts that Sainz will be out again, though he is confident the team has enough spares.

Finally, we have a runner, and it's the world champion. Having switched back to the hards, the Mercedes driver makes a rare early mistake at T2 and runs wide after locking-up.

"I think these tyres are done," he subsequently reports.

As the world champion heads back to the pits, teammate Bottas heads out on mediums. As Leclerc, Gasly, Ocon, Stroll and Vettel head out, Bottas makes a mistake and runs wide in T13.

The session is red-flagged as Latifi is in the barriers at T10.

"I crashed," reports the despondent Canadian. Asked if he is OK, he replies: "Yes, fine... sorry guys."

Again, the replay suggests too much speed and consequently running wide and half-spinning into the barriers.

Just prior to that, Ocon had gone second with a 36.061 on the softs.

The session resumes with 28 minutes remaining.

Understandably, there is a mad dash to action and within moments there are 12 drivers on track.

Despite warnings on backing up in order to create a gap, Verstappen does indeed slow down in order to create a gap, thereby backing up the drivers behind.

Going quickest in the final sector, the Dutchman (softs) crosses the line at 35.577 to go second, albeit 0.654s off Bottas' medium pace.

Elsewhere, Grosjean spins at T13, then asks his team, "can you tell me what was that, help me please".

Vettel goes fifth with a 36.323, ahead of Gasly, Ricciardo and Leclerc.

Albon improves to 8th with a 36.254 but it is a scrappy lap.

Ricciardo goes second with a 35.430, while Stroll goes fifth and Kvyat seventh.

Gasly is very unhappy with his teammate who is running ahead of him, while Verstappen is also very, very unhappy at something or other.

Raikkonen improves his time (37.230) but remains 14th.

A big, big lock-up for Russell at T13, the Briton subsequently running wide.

Now Kvyat is getting angry about Gasly who is comparatively slow, however the Russian is advised that his teammate is on high fuel. No love lost between these two clearly.

Clearly playing some sort of strategic game, while Bottas is currently topping the timesheets, Hamilton is down in 19th, 2.793s off the pace. The Briton has completed 18 laps, the Finn just 13.

As the session winds down there are 14 drivers on track.

The session ends. Bottas is quickest, ahead of Ricciardo, Verstappen, Perez, Stroll, Ocon, Kvyat, Albon, Vettel and Gasly.

Leclerc is eleventh, ahead of Sainz, Norris, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Russell, Grosjean, Hamilton and Latifi.

Check out our Friday gallery from Sochi, here.

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