Valtteri Bottas opened the French Grand Prix with the fastest time of first practice, but his Mercedes team was fuming about high curbs damaging his car.
Bottas had a 0.335s advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton, but he was an early victim of the aggressive curbs dotted around the track, incurring damage to his front wing and requiring his first spare to be fitted just minutes into the session.
Circuit Paul Ricard has had a series of narrow, tall “baguette” curbs installed just beyond the regular red and white strips to deter drivers from running wide over the track’s vast expanses of asphalt, but they proved to be car destroyers based on the first hour of running.
“They’ve done an awful lot of damage to our car. They’re awfully aggressive,” Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows complained to race director Michael Masi. “Our car’s rooted because we went over them. That’s hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage for going three feet too wide.”
Masi noted the complaint, though it’s unlikely changes will be made before the Friday night drivers briefing.
Red Bull Racing followed Mercedes in third and fourth on the time sheet, with Max Verstappen a tenth behind Hamilton and Sergio Perez a further 0.3s adrift.
Verstappen endured a troubled session, the championship leader first complaining of understeer and then radioing that he had picked up floor damage after running over the curbs on a performance run on the soft tire.
Esteban Ocon was fifth for Alpine just days after confirming a three-year extension to his contract with the French team. His teammate, Fernando Alonso, was seventh, the pair split by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. Baku podium getter Pierre Gasly was eighth for AlphaTauri ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren.
Yuki Tsunoda was 10th in his AlphaTauri despite an early spin on cold tires and a practice start at the end of the session that almost put him on a collision course with cars still finishing their final laps at full speed, an enormous crash only avoided by the Japanese rookie’s fast thinking to hit the brakes.
Charles Leclerc was quickest for Ferrari in 11th and 1.5s off the pace, but the Monegasque reported that he was struggling with the car around the sweeping bends.
He fared better than teammate Carlos Sainz, who finished 16th after spinning off the track and over the curbs at Turn 2. The Spaniard flat-spotted his tires so severely over the high-grip run-off that the canvas was exposed as he limped back to the pits.
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen and Aston Martin pair Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel split the Scuderia from 12th and 15th, Vettel losing half an hour of the session after backing into the barriers at Turn 11 when his car snapped away from him at speed mid-corner. Nicholas Latifi was 17th for Williams ahead of Haas teammates Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, and Roy Nissany completed his second practice session of the year for Williams with last in the order.