Rosberg sets blistering pace in opening session


As the F1 circus returns to Europe from, er... Europe, there is plenty to get us excited today.

Having taken a new engine, Lewis Hamilton is now on his fifth of the season, and therefore facing penalties at future races.

Ferrari is to try the latest incarnation of the Halo device this morning, the new version, smaller and made of Titanium, dubbed Halo 2.

A number of teams have updates, not least McLaren which has a controversial new rear wing, whilst there is talk that Sauber has been given a significant financial boost.

Then there's the ongoing talk in terms of who goes where, not to mention Bernie Ecclestone's intention to shake up the prize money allocation.

And as for the circuit, not only has the entire track been resurfaced, almost every corner has been given new kerbing in an attempt to prevent drivers cutting corners and exceeding the track limits.

Finally, as if all that wasn't enough, there is talk of thunderstorms over the weekend, including during qualifying.

For now however, the air temperature is 18 degrees C, whilst the track temperature is 29 degrees... it is bright and sunny.

The only reserve (third) driver on duty today is Alfonso Celis who replaces Sergio Perez.

Tyres available this weekend are ultrasoft, supersoft and soft.

The lights go green and Palmer leads the way, subsequently followed by Wehrlein, Nasr, Magnussen and Raikkonen.

One by one they head out, one by one they return... all except Verstappen that is, who posts the first time of the weekend (1:11.707) despite a wobble in T2. All but Vettel and the Mercedes duo have appeared thus far.

As Wehrlein heads out for a second run, Verstappen improves to 10.099. The Manor driver subsequently posts 12.737.

Vettel heads out twelve minutes into the session, but no halo. Indeed, the device is outside the Ferrari garage leaning against a barrier.

As Wehrlein improves to 11.815, Hulkenberg is the third driver to post a time, the German stopping the clock at 12.453. Moments later, Celis posts 16.926 having gone off at T8.

Fifteen minutes in, Rosberg is the first of the Mercedes drivers to head out, teammate Hamilton following shortly after.

Having posted a 10.649 on his first lap, Rosberg makes a mistake and runs wide in T1 at the start of his second. Hamilton, taking a cautious approach, posts 18.019.

Interestingly, Rosberg has warned that the new track surface will cause problems this weekend, particularly in terms of tyre warm-up.

A 9.154 sees Rosberg go quickest, ahead of Bottas and Verstappen, the Finn subsequently repeating the Mercedes driver's mistake at T1. Elsewhere, Grosjean goes very wide at T8.

"Keep your eyes peeled for the new rear wing design we're trialling on Fernando's car this morning," warns McLaren.

Hamilton goes second with a 9.885, as Raikkonen goes fifth and Vettel eighth.

The Briton subsequently improves to 8.808, which puts him within touching distance of Michael Schumacher's outright lap record.

The Virtual Safety Car is deployed after Hamilton and Grosjean both spin at T8. Elsewhere, Raikkonen complains of 'throttle hesitation'.

As Vettel goes off at T1, the cameras cut to the rear wing on Alonso's car, which has the appearance of an Italian - read stylish - colander.

As Raikkonen complains of "sand" (?) on the track the camera picks up on a piece of front wing endplate on the pit straight. It is subsequently revealed that it was ripped from Verstappen's car when he ran over the kerb at T8.

In quick succession, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Bottas and Palmer run wide, Turns 1 and 8 catching out everyone this morning.

In the midst of all this, Rosberg has raised the bar with a 8.166, which is quicker than Schumacher's 8.337 posted in 2003.

Phew! A very close moment for Ricciardo who has to run wide in T8 as he avoids Ericsson who wobbles as he enters the pitlane and strays across the white line.

The Australian is magnanimous, saying it wasn't the Swede's fault rather the "nature of the track".

Nonetheless, the stewards are investigating the incident.

After forty minutes, at which point the drivers have to hand back a set of tyres, it's: Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vettel, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Bottas, Button, Kvyat and Massa.

Check out our Friday gallery, here.

Taking advantage of the lull in the action, a marshal runs on to the track and retrieves Verstappen's end plate.

"I think those yellow kerbs in the fast corners are really dangerous," warns a timely Verstappen.

It's a significant lull, indeed the hills are alive with the sound of silence for around eight minutes until finally an engine roars to life... it's Rosberg, and he's on the ultras for the first time.

The German subsequently posts a 7.644, 1.164 faster than anything else seen today and around 0.7s quicker than Schumacher's record.

Celis, currently 21st (of 22), runs wide in T1 as he sets about closing the gap to Haryanto and Palmer.

Another improvement from Rosberg who slams in a 7.373, virtually a second quicker than Schumi's best. However, he subsequently gets it wrong at T3 and heads off into the gravel.

As the German makes his way across the gravel and back on to the track, Verstappen is off at T6 and is firmly stuck in the kitty litter having lost (another) end plate in the process.

Replay shows a repeat of his earlier off but at a different corner. To add to his woe, his right-front suspension has failed.

The VSC is deployed.

The question being, is the youngster correct, are the kerbs "dangerous" or are they merely doing their job and he shouldn't be encountering them in the first place by going wide. After all, we know he tends to push to the limit.

A timely warning for Haryanto who is told not to touch the kerbs. The Manor driver responds by spinning at T8 and rejoining the track right in front of Ricciardo.

Meanwhile, Vettel and Hamilton, now on ultras, have both improved, the German posting 8.022 and the Briton 8.086.

The stewards are to investigate Haryanto for rejoining the track "unsafely".

A frustrated Vettel says: "Why don't you tell him I'm on a quick lap". The "him" in question being teammate Raikkonen who is very slow and causes the German to run wide in the final corner.

Improving to second with a 7.995, albeit 0.622s off the pace, Hamilton runs wide in T1.

As Hamilton improves to 7.730, Ricciardo, in fifth, is the highest placed supersoft runner.

"The top runners are now all on the ultrasoft tyre," confirms Pirelli. "But with such a short lap, there's a smaller difference in lap times between compounds."

"I have low power," complains Nasr, as Verstappen's car is pushed into the pitlane.

With around 6 minute remaining, the Mercedes duo lead the way followed by the Ferrari duo. Behind them it's a mixture of Red Bulls, Toro Rossos and Williams. The Red Bulls and Williams yet to try the ultrasoft rubber.

Another off for Hamilton, this time at T8.

Cameras pick up on a piece of carbon fibre that has fallen from Ericsson's car.

Kvyat goes off at T2 but moments later there's a big trip through the gravel for Ricciardo at T6 after the Australian lost the rear end.

Ironically, the team really struggling at the Red Bull ring is... Red Bull.

As the session comes to a close all but Verstappen are on track, Grosjean making a late improvement to 11th with a 9.078.

The session ends with Rosberg quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Massa, Verstappen, Kvyat and Bottas.

Grosjean is eleventh, ahead of Hulkenberg, Button, Alonso, Magnussen, Wehrlein, Palmer, Ericsson, Gutierrez, Nasr, Haryanto and Celis.

Check out our Friday gallery, here.

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Published: 01/07/2016
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