Nico Rosberg outpaced his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to clock the fastest time in the morning’s opening free practice session for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
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The 29-year-old German, who was victorious in last year’s race to inspire a run of strong mid-season form, clocked a best time of 1min 10.401sec. He is currently second in the drivers’ standings, 17 points behind Hamilton.
Defending champion Hamilton was second, 0.308sec adrift of Rosberg’s best lap at the Red Bull Ring track in foothills of the Styrian Alps.
Both men had trouble-free mornings as they began preparations for an event that is a severe test for engines and traction.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari was third fastest ahead of compatriot Valtteri Bottas of Williams and Brazilian Felipe Nasr of Sauber.
Russian Daniil Kvyat was sixth ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo, the pair both running with new engines – their fifth of the season – which will mean they take a 10-place grid penalty for the race.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was eighth for Toro Rosso ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Williams, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India and Spaniard Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso.
Massa was involved in a near-miss in the pit lane when he had to brake sharply as he exited the Williams pits to avoid hitting Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene, as he crossed the road. A brief exchange of rueful grins was followed later by a smiling chat.
— Sebastian Vettel #5 (@sebvettelnews) June 19, 2015
Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel was hampered by gearbox problems and wound up 20th and last in his Ferrari while the two McLaren Hondas of Briton Jenson Button and Spaniard Fernando Alonso were 16th and 17th, Alonso having struggled to overcome ‘system problems’ on his heavily revised car.
Formula One returns to Europe and the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend. You can follow the first and second practice LIVE with Sport360.
The race returned to the F1 calendar last year for the first time since 2003 and in addition to the grand prix, the circuit will also host a two-day test on the following Tuesday and Wednesday.
Nico Rosberg finished highest on the podium last year. The German will be hoping for a repeat this weekend with the fear of team-mate Lewis Hamilton running away with the championship.
Last five winners:
2014: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes);
2003: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari);
2002: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari);
2001: David Coulthard (McLaren);
2000: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren).
You can follow the practices LIVE with Sport360.
If Nico Rosberg is determined to remain in contention for this year’s world championship, he must raise his game and acquire an edge over team mate Lewis Hamilton, something which, by his own admittance, will start with an improved qualifying performance this weekend.
“Canada was really lost for me on the Saturday,” said Rosberg. “Not getting everything together in qualifying hurt my chances big time – but I had the pace and that’s a big positive to take forward and go maximum attack in Austria. My first race at this track last year couldn’t have been much better.”
Indeed, Rosberg will be seeking to repeat his victorious 2014 performance at the Red Bull Ring exactly at a time when he needs to regain the ground lost over his team mate following Hamilton’s brilliant drive in Montreal.
“Of course, we didn’t have the ideal start in qualifying – but we nailed it on Sunday and it was great to get the win. I’m sure we’ll have some tough competition here once again with Williams and probably some others too. But it’s a circuit I really enjoy driving and the crowds are unbelievable, so I’m looking forward to getting back out there and having a good battle. Of course, it’s a home race for Niki and Toto too, so we’ll need to be on our best form for this one!”
Another dominant performance in Austria by Hamilton, who clearly has the upper hand at Mercedes right now, would most probably deal a definitive blow to Rosberg’s psych, hence the German’s need to deliver the goods this weekend.
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) June 18, 2015