BERLIN: Max Verstappen set the pace on Friday in first practice for the British Formula One Grand Prix while Nico Huelkenberg finished ninth in a short-notice appearance as substitute for Sergio Perez who has contracted the coronavirus.
Verstappen clocked 1 minute 27.422 seconds in his Red Bull on the 5.891-kilometres Silverstone course, finishing almost half a second ahead of championship leader and record six-time race winner Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.
Practice times are not necessarily an indication of a team's strength because of different tyres and fuel loads being used.
Second practice was set for later Friday and qualifying, along with final practice, for Saturday.
Lance Stroll was third for Racing Point and his new teammate Huelkenberg ninth in his first F1 appearance since the end of last season in a session red-flagged mid-way through owing to debris from Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo.
Racing Point confirmed just minutes ahead of the session that Huelkenberg, who spent three years at the team in the past when it was named Force India, would take Perez’s place for the race weekend.
“Nico’s experience of racing in contemporary Formula 1 and his strong track record ensure he is the ideal driver to stand in for Sergio Perez this weekend,” Racing Point said.
”In a bid to minimise disruption and ensure the best possible chance of building upon the team’s strong start to the 2020 campaign, Nico’s familiarity with the team will prove invaluable.”
Racing Point have no dedicated reserve driver, instead sharing Mercedes’ reserves Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez, who has not raced in the sport since 2016.
Mexico’s Perez is in self-isolation in a flat after testing positive for Covid-19 ahead of the race weekend, and he said in a video on Twitter it was “one of the saddest days in my career.”
Huelkenberg, 32, is without a contract this season after Renault did not extend his deal after three years 2017-2019. He holds the dubious record of most F1 races without a podium finish, 177 up to now.
However, it is not out of the question that he could end this jinx because Mercedes-powered Racing Point have impressed in the first three season races, with Stroll finishing fourth two weeks ago in Hungary.
Huelkenberg may also race at the second race in Silverstone on August 9 because under British regulations Perez would have to spend 10 days in quarantine.
Perez said he tested positive for the Sars-CoV-2 virus after a brief stint to his native Mexico to see his mother.
“I follow all the instructions from FIA, from my team,” Perez insisted in the video.
“After Hungary I took a private plane to Mexico to see my mum for two days because she had a big accident. So as soon as she left hospital I was able to see her. Then I came back to Europe, same way, with all the protocols in place. And I just got it, I don’t know from where.”
Perez said he has no symptoms but that his case shows “how vulnerable we all are to this.”
Perez is the first positive case since the season started in early July under strict safety and hygiene regulations.
F1 and the ruling body FIA had said Thursday the Silverstone races were not endangered because Perez and all his close contacts were sent into quarantine immediately.
“The procedures set out by the FIA and Formula 1 have provided for swift containment of an incident that will have no wider impact on this weekend’s event,” their statement said. – dpa