F1 championship leader Max Verstappen sets early practice pace for Red Bull in Austria

Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen set the pace for Red Bull in Friday`s opening practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix. The Dutchman swept around his team`s home track in one minute 06.302 seconds, 0.255 seconds quicker than Ferrari`s Charles Leclerc over the 4.3km long lap. “It`s very tight with Ferrari again,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “It`s going to be very tight between the two of us.”

George Russell was third for Mercedes ahead of Verstappen`s Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez, who put in a late flyer to drop Lewis Hamilton down to fifth. “I think we`ve been OK, we`re still experimenting with some set-ups,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “There`s things we had on George`s car that we`ll probably adopt on Lewis`s now.”

Kevin Magnussen was sixth for Haas. Ferrari`s Carlos Sainz, Formula One`s newest winner after racing to his first victory less than a week ago in Silverstone, was seventh. Verstappen leads the standings by 34 points from Mexican Perez and is 43 clear of Leclerc.

Austria marks the halfway point of the 22-race season and the Dutchman is bidding to return to the top of the podium after Sainz`s British win ended a six-race victory streak for Red Bull.  Verstappen has won four times at the scenic circuit.

The Austrian Grand Prix weekend is being run to the sprint format with qualifying later on Friday setting the grid for a shorter `sprint` race on Saturday. The result of the Saturday sprint will set the starting lineup for Sunday`s grand prix. The opening hour of practice was therefore the only preparation teams had heading into qualifying.

McLaren lost valuable track time after Lando Norris parked up on the escape road at turn six after reporting smoke coming from underneath his seat. The Briton propped up the timesheets in last place and Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo struggled with a wildly oscillating drag reduction system flap.

Norris` stoppage brought out the first of two red flags.

The second halt was called to allow circuit crew to clear up debris from the racing line. The session otherwise ran without incident.

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