Nico Rosberg set the quickest time of opening practice for the Austrian Grand Prix, finishing almost four tenths of a second clear of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The German also went a full three seconds quicker than his P1 time from the same session last year.
There was trouble for Max Verstappen, though, with the Red Bull Racing driver exiting the session with broken front suspension after tangling with new kerbs at the Red Bull Ring.
Rosberg benefited from a re-surfaced track to set blistering pace and used the supersoft tyre – the middle compound in this weekend’s selection form Pirelli – to set a best time of 1:07.373 that left him 0.357s clear of Hamilton, who was forced to abandon a quick lap when Verstappen erred.
A number of modifications have been made to the circuit in a bid to deter drivers from exceeding the track limits and the Red Bull driver was caught out by the new kerbing. First he lost part of his front wing at Turn 8 and then, when he ran wide through Turns 5 and 6 the new kerbs damaged his front-right suspension and he went off into the gravels. Thereafter, teams were quick to warn their drivers to stay away from the new yellow kerbs.
In all, four drivers went quicker in this session than Hamilton’s pole position time of last year, 1:08.455, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen also dipping below that benchmark to claim third and fourth positions respectively. Vettel’s time of 1:08.022 was still almost seven tenths of a second down on Rosberg’s P1 time, however, with Raikkonen a further two tenths of a second back.
Behind the Mercedes and Ferraris, Daniel Ricciardo was best of the rest for Red Bull, with the Australian setting a time of 1:08.528, almost 1.2s adrift of Rosberg on a track that the Anglo-Austrian outfit has struggled at in the past.
Ricciardo’s session wasn’t without incident as he narrowly avoided colliding with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson when the Swede made a mistake at the pit entry and the Australian was through the final corner on a quick lap. Ricciardo managed to miss the Sauber and Ericsson was placed under investigation for having two wheels over the white line on the pit entry.
Carlos Sainz was sixth fastest for Toro Rosso, two hundredths of a second clear of Williams’ Felipe Massa. Despite his off, Verstappen finished eighth ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat and the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas in tenth place.
2016 Austrian Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:07.373 37
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:07.730 34
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:08.022 28
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:08.222 31
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:08.528 34
6 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:08.803 34
7 Felipe Massa Williams 1:08.824 39
8 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:08.962 21
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:08.990 32
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:08.998 40
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:09.078 34
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:09.280 43
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:09.365 31
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:09.567 30
15 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:09.707 24
16 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:09.775 34
17 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:09.851 28
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:09.929 35
19 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:10.478 20
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:10.110 26
21 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:10.493 21
22 Alfonso Celis Force India 1:10.860 37