The seventh round of the 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship began with practice on Friday at Circuit Paul Ricard as teams prepared for Sunday's French Grand Prix.
Friday's track action consisted of two 60-minute sessions - FP1 and FP2 - on the 5.842-kilometer (3.630-mile), 15-turn circuit with the self-styled ‘Summer Race' living up to its billing as brilliant sunshine greeted the field.
Nikita Mazepin led the way in FP1 opening his account with a wake-up run on Pirelli's P Zero White hard tires. The Russian switched onto Red softs for his second stint, clocking a best lap of 1:36.651 along the way - good for 18th overall. Mazepin completed his run-plan with a high-fuel outing on the hard compound. Track time was at a premium for Mick Schumacher after a systems issue on his VF-21 led to a rear lock-up at turn three on his maiden lap. Schumacher was also down a set of tires, his flat-spotted hard set too damaged to re-use. With one set of softs at his disposal, Schumacher returned after a 25-minute spell in the garage. The German set a 1:37.329, to place 19th in the session - later following up his qualifying sim with a shortened high-fuel run.
FP2 saw Mazepin and Schumacher start the session with baseline runs sampling the Yellow medium rubber. They swapped onto soft tires for their respective qualifying simulations runs. Schumacher edged Mazepin by just under fourth hundredths of a second, his fastest lap a 1:35.512 (P19) to his teammate's best of 1:35.551 (P20). Both VF-21's wrapped the first day in France with high-fuel runs on their used medium and soft tires.
Uralkali Haas F1 Team ran a total of 85 laps on Friday across FP1 and FP2 - 47 by Mazepin and 38 by Schumacher.
Nikita Mazepin: "Not an easy day for us - the heat and the increased tire pressures are perhaps not the best things for the car that does not have the most downforce but from my side, it was a very smooth FP1. In FP2, we completed the run plan and I think we know where we stand for Sunday, but there is a lot more to be improved for qualifying. Coming straight from Baku and Monaco, I see it rather easier as there isn't a wall waiting for you on the exit of every corner, which for a rookie is a positive note. This circuit has its challenges to it - the tarmac is very tricky here but I'm enjoying driving in France."
Mick Schumacher: "Obviously, we had some issues in FP1 unfortunately and it just meant that we didn't get to do all the running that we wanted to. We still got to do all the laps we wanted in FP2 which was a positive and we got to learn the track even better compared to FP1, so now it's just about finalizing all the things that we have and try to improve in the aspects we need to and hopefully we will be a bit closer to Williams. We feel the temperature in the tires and we also had some increase in pressures which makes it a bit more difficult to keep the tires alive, especially in the long runs, so now it's about trying to set the car up so its ok in qualifying and it's good in the race, so hopefully we'll manage."
Guenther Steiner: "Without the time loss from Mick in FP1, it was actually a very good session and I think we did good laps. Mick had a problem with a brake-by-wire system issue but otherwise everything has gone to plan. You never have enough running, but we always try to get the best out of two hours running and with the sets of tires we have available. Let's see tomorrow - we're looking forward to going out again."
Check out our Friday gallery from Paul Ricard, here.