LE CASTELLET: Valtteri Bottas overcame a poor start to top the first practice session ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the French Grand Prix on Friday.
Bottas had some early trouble at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France, bouncing over kerbs and appearing to damage the front wing on his car.
But he recovered to post the best lap of 1 minute, 33.45 seconds, putting him .335 ahead of Hamilton and .432 clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Soon after Bottas had his mishap, four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel lost control of the rear of his Aston Martin and slid backward off the track into the crash barriers.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. also slid off late in the session, just as Verstappen lost top spot on the leaderboard, while three other drivers also had trouble with grip and went off track.
Verstappen leads the championship by four points ahead of Hamilton, the defending champion, after six races of an exciting season so far.
Verstappen could have both extended and lost his lead at the action-packed Azerbaijan GP two weeks ago. He was leading with Hamilton third when his tire blew near the end and he scored no points. That should have gifted Hamilton a sizeable points advantage.
But when the race resumed with a two-lap sprint, the seven-time F1 champion inexplicably locked his brakes. Hamilton missed the first turn trying to overtake Red Bull's Sergio Perez and went straight ahead, dropping from second place to 15th and scoring no points.
Red Bull have blamed Pirelli for the tire failure.
“We just hope we won’t see any incidents again like we saw in Azerbaijan,” team principal Christian Horner said Friday.
Hamilton has disagreed with Red Bull's view, saying the Italian tire manufacturer was not at fault on this occasion.