Lewis Hamilton topped the opening practice timesheet as France returned to the Formula 1 calendar following an absence of a decade, the defending world champion edging Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by a tenth of a second at the Circuit Paul Ricard. The session ended in spectacular fashion, with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson crashing out and his car catching fire.
The Swedish driver lost control of his Sauber C37 midway through Turn 11 and slid sideways across the run-off area into the barriers. As the car came to rest the rear end burst into flames. As marshals race to extinguish the fire, Ericsson quickly exited the car, just before the session ended.
There were a number of similar offs during the session as teams experimented with set-up options, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne all had off-track excursions early in the session at Turn 6, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc had a moment at Turn 11.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo led the way after 20 minutes with a time of 1:34.956. He then improved to a time of 1:33.691 using soft tyres. Räikkönen took over at the top as the session reached the half-hour mark before the Australian put in a series of quick laps to set a time of 1:32.576 that put him more than half a second ahead of Bottas.
The Finn bolted on a set of ultrasoft tyres just ahead of the final half hour of the session and that allowed him to get past Ricciardo with a time of 1:32.566.
Bottas was outpaced by team-mate Hamilton, however, with the Briton setting a time of 132.231 to take top spot.
The dropped Ricciardo to third place, with the Australian finishing just under three tenths of a second behind Hamilton. There was then an almost four tenths of a second gap to Räikkönen, with Sebastian Vettel in fifth place, a further 0.169s behind his team-mate.
Romain Grosjean took best of the rest status for Haas with sixth place, a second behind Hamilton. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a less successful session than his team-mate, with the Dutchman spending much of the session in the garage. He took to the track for the last half hour of running and rose to P7 ahead of Toro Rosso’s French driver Pierre Gasly.
Force India’s Sergio Perez took ninth place with a time of 1:33.719, almost 1.5s behind Hamilton, with the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen rounding out the top 10.
2018 Formula 1 French Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 25 1:32.231
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 29 1:32.371 0.140
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 25 1:32.527 0.296
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 23 1:33.003 0.772
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 19 1:33.172 0.941
6 Romain Grosjean Haas 22 1:33.318 1.087
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 15 1:33.331 1.100
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 23 1:33.685 1.454
9 Sergio Perez Force India 26 1:33.719 1.488
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas 23 1:34.108 1.877
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 25 1:34.258 2.027
12 Esteban Ocon Force India 14 1:34.484 2.253
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber 21 1:34.513 2.282
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 21 1:34.592 2.361
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 25 1:34.664 2.433
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren 20 1:34.862 2.631
17 Lance Stroll Williams 28 1:34.881 2.650
18 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 24 1:34.993 2.762
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 24 1:35.021 2.790
20 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 25 1:35.105 2.874