Mercedes and Valtteri Bottas in particular were unbeatable on the first day of practice for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton a close second.
Entering FP2, the teams had to go through their usual programs with an eye on the weather, as rain is expected on qualifying day, a factor that should be considered while setting up their cars.
The action resumed for the second free practice session in Sochi with various tyre choices by the teams, some opting for the hards, while others running the mediums and softs.
Bottas continued to feel at home in Sochi, after topping FP1 in the morning he ended FP2 again in first place, and clearly fast out of the box as Hamilton, who had a nasty moment with his jackman after overshooting his parking limit, running him close in second place but merely 0.044s off the pace.
Pierre Gasly went even better in FP2, ending up third only 0.252s off the top time, and again light years ahead of his teammate Yuki Tsunoda in 18th. A string afternoon for the Frenchman.
In fourth was McLaren’s Lando Norris who seems to have found some extra pace, but over half a second adrift from Bottas. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who experienced power unit issues at the end of FP1, was 17th and unable to do any proper running despite his team getting his car ready in time for FP2.
Alpine driver Esteban Ocon improved massively and ended in fifth place ahead of his veteran teammate Fernando Alonso, in eighth, almost two tenths slower.
Max Verstappen went into FP2, knowing that he will be starting from the back of the grid after Red Bull opted to bolt a new power unit to his RB16B. He ended the second practice session sixth, clearly focusing on Sunday’s race, rather than qualifying.
His teammate Sergio Perez is now expected to fight at the front and offer support at the front was a disappointing 11th almost 1.4s off the pace of the Mercedes duo.
Carlos Sainz put his SF21 in seventh place, ahead of his compatriot Fernando Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel remained in decent form, in ninth, and ahead of his teammate in 15th, while Charles Leclerc, who had a hairy moment at Turn 6 early in the session due to cold tyres, rounded up the top ten.
The session wasn’t without any drama, as 35 minutes into the session, Antonio Giovinazzi brought out the red flags after crashing his car at Turn 9, and stopping all the track action, just as all the teams were getting ready to head out for their long runs.
Not the best moment for the under-pressure Italian to crash, with his future at the team under scrutiny.
All the teams head into Saturday still unsure how the qualifying will turn out, as rainfall is expected, which will hopefully mix things, and set the stage up for an unpredictable race.