SPO_240705 FORMULA ONE3-1720191338259
McLaren's British driver Lando Norris attends a press conference ahead of the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone. Image Credit: AFP

Silverstone: Lando Norris showed no ill-effects from his recent brush with Max Verstappen as he topped the times in a closely contested opening free practice on Friday for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

The 24-year-old home hero clocked a best lap of one minute and 27.420 seconds in his McLaren to outpace Lance Stroll in an Aton Martin by a tenth. Oscar Piastri next in the second McLaren ahead of defending three-time champion Verstappen’s Red Bull.

George Russell was fifth for Mercedes ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, in the second Mercedes, and Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Esteban Ocon was 10th for Alpine.

Close fight in qualifying

The top ten cars were separated by only half a second, offering the prospect of a close fight in qualifying on Saturday and in Sunday’s race, set to be run in unpredictable weather.

For Norris, it was a welcome return to work after five days of intense focus on his controversial collision with Verstappen in last Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, which resulted in both suffering punctures. Verstappen, who leads the title race by 81 points, finished fifth and Norris was forced to retire.

SPO_240705 FORMULA ONE2-1720191335071
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was the fourth fastest in the opening free practice on Friday. Image Credit: AFP

Overcast sky

Friday’s session began under an overcast sky with a breeze and a risk of rain, as four rookies were handed a ‘test’ chance to impress.

For Williams, Franco Colapinto became the first Argentine in F1 in more than two decades. Briton Oliver Bearman, took to the track for Haas, who he is joining as a permanent driver next year when he leaves the Ferrari academy. Frenchman Isack Hadjar drove Sergio Perez’s Red Bull. Australian Jack Doohan, son of five time motorcycling world champion Mick, drove an Alpine.

Verstappen was quick to top the times ahead of Alonso before Yuki Tsunoda in his RB and then Hamilton took the initiative. Tsunoda then slid into the gravel at Luffield and the session was red-flagged.

After an eight-minute break, the action resumed with Russell on top in 1:28.156, two-tenths clear of Verstappen, both running on hard tyres, before Hamilton took over, by a margin of 0.003 seconds ahead of his teammate.

SPO_240705 FORMULA ONE1-1720191332587
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr rides a bicycle ahead of the qualifying at Silverstone circuit. Image Credit: AFP

Sainz then surged to the top midway into the session with a lap in 1:27.925, staying there until Verstappen trimmed that by two-tenths on mediums. Russell, also on mediums, slotted into second, just 0.009 adrift of the Dutchman.

With 20 minutes remaining, Valtteri Bottas tried softs on his Sauber, as Bearman had done to take eighth, setting a trend that saw Piastri on softs going top for McLaren, 0.098 clear of Verstappen — a mere blink.

Cautious approach

Norris, who had taken a cautious approach, then took over in 1:27.420, ahead of Stroll by 0.134 while the luckless Piastri slowed to a halt with a hydraulics problem, just short of the pit entry. He was rescued by track marshals.

In the final minutes, Leclerc survived a scare when he almost hit Stroll’s Aston Martin when the Canadian changed lanes at Becketts.

“I nearly crashed with Lance,” the Ferrari driver reported.

In another close brush with danger, Norris avoided Hadjar in the closing seconds.