Blow for Verstappen, boost for Hamilton

AAPAAP
Max Verstappen will have to start from the back of the grid in Sunday's Russian Grand Prix.
Camera IconMax Verstappen will have to start from the back of the grid in Sunday's Russian Grand Prix. Credit: AP

Lewis Hamilton's bid for a landmark 100th Formula One win has been hugely boosted with Max Verstappen set to start Sunday's Russian Grand Prix from last place after a power unit change.

Valtteri Bottas spearheaded a dominant first day of practice for Mercedes in Sochi, ending Friday 0.044 seconds clear of his British teammate Hamilton with a benchmark time of one minute 33.593 seconds, having already gone fastest ahead of the champion in the first hour of racing.

Hamilton trails Verstappen by five points in the standings. His chances of taking a fifth win this year and the championship lead already looked good with the Dutchman on a three-place grid penalty for a crash that saw both exit the last race in Monza.

Bottas, gunning for his first victory of the year, had also said he would be prepared to "take one for the team" and let Hamilton win if needed.

Mercedes, who are 18 points clear of Red Bull in the constructors' championship, have won every race at Sochi since the 2014 Winter Olympic venue joined the calendar that year.

After Verstappen's grid drop, Hamilton's prospects look even better.

"It's definitely a shame for him but we've got to try and capitalise on that," said the seven-times champion, who last won at his home British Grand Prix in July and has taken four wins to Verstappen's seven this year.

"A one-two would be spectacular for us as a team."

Verstappen, who fought his way up to fifth in the 2018 Sochi race after being dropped to 19th by engine and gearbox-related penalties, will try to limit the damage to his overall lead.

"We just try to make the best possible race car for this weekend, of course, once we decided to take that engine," said the 23-year-old. "So I hope it's going to work out."

After his shock victory at the Italian Grand Prix, though, it proved an anti-climactic day for Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who couldn't get much of a tune from his McLaren as he finished 14th fastest in the opening session and 17th in the afternoon.

His teammate Lando Norris, in contrast, ended fourth fastest in the second session.

Teams rushed to pack as much racing as they could into Friday's two hour-long sessions, with heavy rain predicted for Saturday when qualifying is scheduled, raising fears of a washout.

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