Baku winner Sergio Perez finished the one-hour session in fourth, as F1’s leading two teams swept the top positions from the off at Paul Ricard.
Sebastian Vettel led the field out of the pits when the session got underway, his Aston Martin fitted with a pair of tall, triangular-shaped aero rakes, before Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi established the initial P1 benchmark at 1m38.487s as most of the drivers lapped on the hard tyres in the early stages.
Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc – who was running the mediums – Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz Jr each improved the fastest time with their opening flying laps at the end of the first five minutes, with Sainz bringing it to a 1m36.749s.
Verstappen then moved to the top spot for the first time with a 1m35.639s, which stood as the best time until the end of the opening 10 minutes, when Lando Norris set a 1m35.461s.
Following in the McLaren’s wake, Sainz then moved back to first place with a 1m35.342s, but Verstappen then completed a 1m34.139s, which stood as the fastest time on the hard tyres.
Approaching the halfway mark, the Mercedes drivers emerged on the soft tyres to complete the opening performance runs of the event, with Hamilton taking over in first place with a 1m33.783s.
Verstappen’s opening flying lap on the red-walled rubber was 0.097s slower than Hamilton, who was soon usurped by Bottas – who had run over the large kerbs on the exit of the Turn 2 fast right in the early stages and damaged his front wing.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
After spending some time in the garage as Mercedes assessed the damage – which it estimated was worth “tens of thousands of pounds” when team sporting director Ron Meadows complained to race director Michael Masi regarding the kerbs’ placement – Bottas had slotted in just behind Verstappen at the end of the hard tyre running.
His 1m33.488s opening flying lap on the softs put him 0.335s clear of Hamilton and stood as the fastest time until the end of the session.
Verstappen ended up 0.432s behind Bottas, with Perez 0.745s adrift on his best soft tyre lap.
Red Bull brought Verstappen in to make a few adjustments after his opening soft-shod run, and he then nearly matched his time in the first sector – which stood to the session’s end – before he went quickest of all the middle sector.
But running wide over the kerbs exiting the Turn 11, a long fast right corner, meant Verstappen ended up abandoning that lap, with the Dutchman suspecting he may have picked up floor damage.
Esteban Ocon jumped up to fifth with a late lap on the softs, to finish ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso in the second Alpine.
Gasly ended up eighth ahead of Norris, with Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10.
Several drivers mirrored Bottas in running heavily over the Turn 2 exit kerbs – including Kimi Raikkonen (P13) and Gasly – while three of the field spun off.
Mick Schumacher, who ended up 19th in the final FP1 standings, spun approaching Turn 3 on his outlap on the hards at the beginning of the session, clipping the wall with his right front after spearing off left when he hit the brakes approaching the turn.
The Haas driver was able to recover to the pits, which Vettel also managed to do after he had a high-speed spin turning into Turn 11.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
The Aston’s rear swung around on Vettel as he turned right for the first part of the corner, which sent him off backwards over the striped runoff area and he hit the tyre barrier with his rear wing.
Although it was a sizeable impact, Vettel was able to drive away and eventually returned to the track for the session’s later running, ultimately finishing 15th, one spot behind team-mate Lance Stroll.
Sainz was the other spinner, losing his Ferrari’s rear after clipping the apex at Turn 2 hard and going off backwards into the runoff, ruining his first set of softs, just after the Spaniard had moved to start his initial performance running on that compound.
The Ferrari drivers ended up P11 and P16 in the final order, with Leclerc leading the way.
Roy Nissany, running in place of George Russell at Williams for FP1, brought up the rear of the field.