PORTMAO: Valtteri Bottas put Mercedes on top in first practice for the Portuguese Grand Prix on Friday with the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez close behind.

The Finn bounced back from a big collision at Imola on April 18 to clock a best lap of one minute 19.648 seconds on soft tyres with his rebuilt car.

Verstappen, a point behind seven times Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton in the standings after two races, was just 0.025 adrift despite complaining at one point that the car was ‘impossible to drive’ due to tyre vibrations.

“What a joke, mate. I can’t even see where I’m going, there’s so much vibration,” the Dutch youngster had said over the radio. “I’ll just visit the dentist after the weekend.”

Perez was third and 0.198 off the pace after spending the early part of the session in the garage.

Hamilton was unhappy with the balance of his car and ended up fifth on the timesheets, 0.319 slower than Bottas, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth.

George Russell, who collided with Bottas at Imola, was seventh fastest for Williams in another eye-catching performance by the youngster.

Four times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who has moved from Ferrari to Aston Martin, livened up the session by stopping at the wrong garage when he came into the pits.

“Sorry for that. It had to happen at some point,” chuckled the German over the radio. “I was wondering why nobody was there.”

Ferrari-backed Briton Callum Ilott took Antonio Giovinazzi’s place at Alfa Romeo for his practice debut after being appointed as their second reserve earlier in the week. He was 17th fastest, with team mate Kimi Raikkonen 15th.

The Algarve circuit is hosting Formula One for the second time this weekend.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2021

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