Bottas fastest ahead of Hamilton in Portuguese GP practice

Portimao (Portugal) (AFP) –


Valtteri Bottas topped the times ahead of Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton in a one-two finish for Mercedes in Friday's opening practice for the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Finn Bottas maintained a habit that has seen him enjoy being 'fastest on Friday', but not always with success on the following days, as he clocked a best lap of one minute and 18.410 seconds at the Algarve International Circuit 15 kilometres inland from the coastal town of Portimao.

That lap was enough to lift him three-tenths of a second clear of six-time world champion and Mercedes teammate Hamilton, who this weekend is seeking to overtake Michael Schumacher and claim a record 92nd GP victory.

It was the sixth consecutive GP at which Bottas had topped the first practice session, but Hamilton has a commanding 69-point lead in the drivers' title race as he also closes in on Schumacher's record of seven championships.

Max Verstappen, third in the title battle, was third behind the Mercedes pair and ahead of Ferrari's revitalised Charles Leclerc and his Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon.

Carlos Sainz was sixth for McLaren ahead of Sergio Perez of Racing Point, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, Daniel Ricciardo of Renault and Pierre Gasly in the leading Alpha Tauri.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was 11th in the second Ferrari.

The weather was mild with a hint of rain for F1's return to Portugal for the first time in 24 years, and the conditions gave the drivers a slippery introduction to the new track.

- 'Tokyo Drift' -

The undulating track required learning for those making a first visit in front of a scattered crowd of 27,500 fans, a Government-prescribed total for the 90,000-capacity facility in an attempt to keep Covid-19 at bay.

Vettel, who on Thursday said he wanted to end his 'love affair at Ferrari' with dignity, was the first to clock a lap time before Verstappen became the first spinner as Sainz and then Leclerc topped the initial time-screens.

"This is Tokyo Drift! It’s incredible," exclaimed Sainz, who had two early fast laps deleted for exceeding track limits. Several other drivers reported their cars drifting on the low-grip asphalt with blind crests, spectacular views and a high-speed fast corner.

Meanwhile Mercedes CEO Ola Kallenius said that they would be 'crazy' to quit the sport as he sees interest in the sport booming, in particular among young people.

Teams have had to reflect on their plans ahead of next year's implementation of a new binding commercial contract between the FIA, F1 and its teams -- named the Concorde Agreement -- and a complete set of new technical regulations.

The sport is also grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and environmental pressures on the automotive industry.

Kallenius said that F1's planned introduction of a budget cap would help reduce costs for Mercedes and its racing team.

"We reassessed our Formula One commitment at the beginning of the year," Kallenius told Germany's Manager Magazin.

"The price for television rights is rising significantly. Interest in F1 is growing in Asia, Europe, South America... Everywhere. And the number of young fans is exploding, especially through social media and Esports.

"Should we throw that away? We would be crazy."