Bottas bests Hamilton in Russian GP practice as Verstappen heads to back of grid

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) –


Valtteri Bottas deprived Lewis Hamilton of the honours in a Mercedes 1-2 at Friday's Russian Grand Prix practice at Sochi as Red Bull announced Max Verstappen will have to start Sunday's race at the back of the grid for fitting his car with a new engine.

Verstappen, who leads by five points going into the 15th round of the white-knuckle title race with Hamilton, has already used up the season's quota of three power units.

The team announced the Dutch driver would take the hit in a race where he was already facing a three-place grid penalty.

That sanction stems from an incident in the last race in Monza where he was found "predominantly" to blame for a crash with Hamilton.

"Taking everything into account, it was better to take the engine penalty here in Sochi," Verstappen said.

Seven-time champion Hamilton began a weekend when he is targeting his fifth Sochi win and 100th overall by being shaded by his Alfa Romeo-bound teammate.

"It's a shame for Max but we will try to capitalise on it with the best possible result. A double would be ideal," said Hamilton.

The second session went the way of the morning's opening practice with the Finn leading with a 1min 33.593 lap at the circuit in the Olympic Park.

"If you look at the timings and based on my own feeling in the car, it was a good day. From the first run, I had confidence in the car and the balance was very good so I could focus on my driving, looking for small gains," said Bottas.

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris for McLaren, and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon completed the top five.

Verstappen, 1.28 off the pace, took sixth.

The Dutch driver will have Charles Leclerc for company at the back of Sunday's grid after an engine change to his Ferrari.

It was a routine two sessions for most of the drivers but not Norris, who crashed on the way back to the pits, in the morning and Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi, who crashed at Turn Nine after lunch, bringing out the red flag.

One man happy to be back on the track despite only posting the 12th fastest time in second practice was Kimi Raikkonen after the Alfa Romeo driver missed the last two races following a positive Covid-19 test.

The sessions were blessed with sunshine but heavy rain is forecast for Saturday's third practice and qualifying.

With the washed-out Belgian Grand Prix still fresh in the mind, organisers have taken steps to ensure lightning doesn't strike twice by arranging for qualifying to be staged on Sunday morning should it be impossible to go ahead in its traditional Saturday slot.