SILVERSTONE: The gap between Mercedes and Red Bull surprised even Lewis Hamilton during Friday's practice at the British Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen was quickest at the start of a historic weekend for Formula One as it debuts a new qualifying format.
Verstappen, who is bidding for a fourth straight win, was 0.779 seconds ahead of Lando Norris and 0.780 quicker than Hamilton.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was fourth, ahead of Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas.
Mercedes had brought some upgrades to Silverstone, traditionally its favourite track, and Hamilton had done what he clearly felt was a good lap when the defending champion asked for the gap between him and Verstappen.
"Seven tenths? Where did that come from?" Hamilton responded in a baffled-sounding voice when told the difference.
Championship leader Verstappen has a 32-point advantage over Hamilton, who has not won a race since the Spanish GP on May 9, a dismal streak of five grand prix.
However, Silverstone has long been a Mercedes stronghold with the team winning seven of the past eight races there.
Hamilton has won six of those.
Rather than a second practice session later Friday, there will be a qualifying session to determine the grid for the sprint qualifying race on Saturday that will decide the grid for the Grand Prix.
Sprint qualifying will be over 100 kilometres -- or 17 laps at Silverstone -- and the top three finishers will also receive points toward the championship.
First place will receive three points, second place two points, and third place one point.
There were around 90,000 fans expected on Friday, building up to 140,000 fans on Sunday.
The capacity crowd had to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of arrival.
And there were huge cheers as Hamilton drove out at the start of practice, in the sunshine at Silverstone.