P1 started bright and early on Friday morning and it didn’t take long to realise just how fast the Mercedes were around Spielberg.
Even in Practice both Mercedes, and soon both Ferrari’s, were well under the pole position time from last year as the combination of improved cars, a new surface and the ultra soft tyres pushed times down.
Sebastian Vettel, who was meant to be testing an updated version of the “Halo” safety device but decided forgo it after he was slow out of the garage and had to take a 5-place grid penalty for changing the race-day gearbox.
Lewis Hamilton caused some early chaos by spinning off and then backing onto the track much to the surprise of Romain Grosjean who was coming up the road behind him and had to spin to avoid him. Hamilton wasn’t the only driver to take an off-road adventure in the morning sunshine, team-mate Nico Rosberg took a trip over the gravel at turn three, only for Max Verstappen moments later to run wide at turn 4 & 5 and go over the raised yellow “baguettes” on the extreme outside of the track. Those baguettes broke the steering arm on his front right and he cruised into the gravel trap and beached the car. That bought out the virtual safety car and ended his session.
Once allowed to get back up to speed the parade of cars falling off the track continued as everyone began finding the limits of the new surface. Ryo Harayanto came off and then rejoined across the front of Daniel Ricciardo in a rather dangerous way. Daniil Kvyat spun at turn two and had to burn up his tyres to get the Toro Rosso back around.
In the end though, the incredibly fast Mercedes were the cars to beat. Ferrari were probably closer today than they will be tomorrow when all the engines get turned up to 11. F1’s current golden boy Sergio Perez wasn’t out in P1 as Force India gave the session to test driver Alfonso Celis Jr.