SPIELBERG, Austria: Championship leader Nico Rosberg clocked the fastest ever lap at the Red Bull Ring on Friday as he topped the times in an incident-filled opening free practice for this weekend´s Austrian Grand Prix.
The German, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday, recorded a lap in one minute and 7.373 seconds to outpace nearest rival and Mercedes team-mate defending three-time champion Lewis Hamilton by nearly four-tenths of a second.
Hamilton has a 24-points lead in the drivers´ championship ahead of Hamilton and this weekend is seeking his third successive victory in Austria since the event returned to the F1 calendar in 2014.
Briton Hamilton, also 31, was four-tenths of a second off the pace set by Rosberg as he wound up second, after some off-track excursions, ahead of four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel and his under-pressure Ferrari team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull as they strove to impress on their ´home´ Red Bull Ring circuit in the Styrian Alps.
His team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was unable to stay with him and finished down in eight place after a difficult session that saw him twice run off over the kerbs and damage his car.
Verstappen complained that the new kerbs on the circuit were ´unbelievable´ and dangerous. Early in the session, he broke his front wing when he ran across the bright yellow kerbs at the exit of the penultimate corner.
Speaking on team radio, he said: “The yellow kerbs in the fast corners are really dangerous…. Those yellow things, it is just unbelievable.”
After repairs, he resumed, but crashed again into a gravel trap with half an hour to go, this time appearing to damage his car´s front right suspension at Turn Six.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who this week was confirmed as staying with Toro Rosso next year, was sixth ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams with Russian Daniil Kvyat taking ninth in the second Toro Rosso and Valtteri Bottas of Williams 10th.