Lewis Hamilton began his quest for a record-equalling seventh world title by topping the times on Friday as Formula One roared back with a full day’s practice for the belated season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
Three months after the cancelled traditional curtain-raiser in Australia and six months on from the last race, it was business as usual from the dominant ‘black arrows’ Mercedes men with Valtteri Bottas next fastest as the sport re-started after its longest off-season.
Hamilton, in commanding form in both the morning and afternoon sessions, was quickest in one minute and 4.304 seconds to lead Bottas by 0.197 seconds and third-placed Sergio Perez, in Racing Point’s pink Mercedes, by 0.657.
Sebastian Vettel, in his last season with Ferrari, was fourth for the Italian outfit ahead of McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo of Renault and Lando Norris of McLaren.
Lance Stroll, in the second Racing Point car, modelled on the hugely-successful 2019 title-winning Mercedes, was seventh ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari and his future team-mate Carlos Sainz of McLaren.
The long-awaited track action brought an end to Formula One’s longest break following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in Europe caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hamilton, who has been an outspoken supporter of the campaign for equality and diversity since the death of American George Floyd last month, revealed a statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ helmet before climbing into his Mercedes.
His Mercedes W11 car was also running in revised new black livery, instead of the team’s traditional silver, with a message to ‘End Racism’ on the halo.
“For a long time, we’ve been planning for the livery change for the car, for the (driver) suit change and I have also designed my helmet in black,” said Hamilton, speaking on a video released on social media.
“Normally, my helmet is white, my suit is white and obviously the car is in silver. This is why – it’s the whole reason that the helmet has changed its colour and the suit and the car.
“It’s supporting equality, above all, and just really continuing to solidify that important message as we currently have ‘the mic’ and people are starting to listen. So, it’s an opportunity to push that message and really hold people accountable.
“It’s not good enough, even if someone says to you ‘we’ve been doing something’ or ‘we’ve been trying’. They need to try harder because it is still a big issue that the world is fighting 60 years later, after Martin Luther King was fighting for it and gave his life.”