Bottas, gunning for his first victory of the year, had also said he would be prepared to “take one for the team” and let Hamilton win if needed
Valtteri Bottas spearheaded a dominant first day of practice for Mercedes at the Russian Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton, whose bid for a 100th F1 win was boosted with Max Verstappen set to start the September 26 race last after a power unit change.
The Finn, a specialist around the Sochi track, ended the day 0.044 seconds clear of his British team mate with a benchmark time of one minute 33.593 seconds, having already gone fastest ahead of Hamilton in the first hour of racing.
"From the first run I had a good confidence with the car and the balance was actually very good," said the 32-year-old, who claimed his maiden Formula One win in Sochi in 2017. "So all we had to do [were] minor adjustments during the day."
Hamilton trails Verstappen by five points in the standings. His chances of taking a fifth win this year and the championship lead already looked good with the Dutchman on a three-place grid penalty for a crash that saw both exit the last race in Monza.
Bottas, gunning for his first victory of the year, had also said he would be prepared to “take one for the team” and let Hamilton win if needed.
Mercedes, who are 18 points clear of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, have won every race at Sochi since the 2014 Winter Olympic venue joined the calendar that year.
After Verstappen’s grid drop, Hamilton’s prospects look even better.
"It’s definitely a shame for him but we’ve got to try and capitalise on that," said the seven-times champion, who last won at his home British Grand Prix in July and has taken four wins to Verstappen’s seven this year.
"A one-two would be spectacular for us as a team."
Verstappen, who fought his way up to fifth in the 2018 Sochi race after being dropped to 19th by engine and gearbox-related penalties, will try to limit the damage to his overall lead.
"We just try to make the best possible racecar for this weekend, of course, once we decided to take that engine," said the 23-year-old. "So I hope it’s going to work out."
Pierre Gasly ended the practice running third quickest for AlphaTauri, although the Frenchman lost his front wing after clattering over the kerbs in the closing seconds of the session.
Lando Norris, who completed a one-two for McLaren behind race winner Daniel Ricciardo at the last race in Italy, was fourth quickest.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who like Verstappen will start from the back after a power unit change, rounded out the top 10.
Antonio Giovinazzi crashed his Alfa Romeo at the Turn 9 complex, forcing a nine-minute halt to the session.
Hamilton also ran into one of his pitcrew after overshooting his marks while stopping.
Kimi Raikkonen returned for Alfa Romeo after missing the last two races having tested positive for COVID-19. He ended the practice running 12th.
Teams rushed to pack as much racing as they could into the two hour-long sessions, with heavy rain predicted for September 25 when qualifying is scheduled, raising fears of a washout.
The first race of the Formula Three feeder series was moved to September 24 from the morning of September 25 due to the weather forecast.
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