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Valtteri Bottas takes top spot in opening French GP practice

Valtteri Bottas takes top spot in opening French GP practice
© Reuters
The Mercedes driver saw off his team-mate by 0.335 seconds at the Paul Ricard Circuit.

Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to top spot in opening practice for the French Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver saw off his team-mate by 0.335 seconds at the Paul Ricard Circuit.

Championship leader Max Verstappen finished third for Red Bull, one place ahead of Sergio Perez, winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix earlier this month.

Bottas arrived in the south of France as a man under pressure following a lacklustre display in Baku, where he started only 10th and finished 12th.

But his opening salvo of the weekend will provide him with a much-needed boost of confidence heading into the remainder of the seventh round of the campaign.

The Finn is already 57 points behind Verstappen in the standings, with Englishman George Russell waiting in the wings for a seat at Mercedes next year.

However, it was not a session without incident for Bottas after he sustained damage to the floor of his Mercedes by running over the rumble strips at Turn 2.

Mercedes team manager Ron Meadows expressed his anger at the incident to FIA race director Michael Masi, claiming it could cost his team a six-figure bill.

Bottas' team-mate Hamilton is four points adrift of Verstappen but following two off-colour weekends in Monaco and Azerbaijan, the British driver's Mercedes team appear better placed to take the fight to Red Bull.

Indeed, Verstappen finished almost half-a-second adrift of Bottas in the opening hour, with Perez, who took advantage of his team-mate's tyre blowout in Baku to claim his maiden win for Red Bull, seven tenths back.

Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel ran into the barriers at the fast-sweeping Turn 11 but was able to limp back to the pits for repairs. Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Haas driver Mick Schumacher also suffered spins on Formula One's return to Le Castellet after last year's round was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Esteban Ocon, who earlier this week agreed a three-year extension with Alpine, finished fifth ahead of McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo, with double world champion Fernando Alonso seventh.

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Esteban Ocon pictured on October 4, 2018
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Today's Olympic highlights header

Saturday's key events

· Two-time Olympic gold medallist and comeback queen Helen Glover teams up with Polly Swan in the heats of the women's pair (12.30am-4.30am)

· Two-time Rio gold medallist Max Whitlock leads Team GB's charge in the men's qualification, while Rhys McClenaghan flies the flag for Ireland (2am-2pm)

· The first gold medal of the Games will be awarded in the Air Rifle women's final (from 2.45am)

· The men's road race should be a wide-open thriller, with Team GB among those going for gold (3am-10am)

· Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are among the names in action on the opening day of tennis (from 3am)

· Adam Peaty and many others get their Olympics campaigns underway on the opening day of swimming (11am-12.50pm)

· Team GB's women try to make it two wins from two against hosts Japan (11.30am)
· Netherlands and Brazil, who scored 15 goals between them on matchday one, face off (12pm)
· World champions USA look to bounce back from a shock opening defeat against New Zealand (12.30pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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