SPIELBERG BEI KNITTELFELD, Austria, June 20, 2014 (AFP) - Current Formula One leader Nico Rosberg showed he remained the man to beat by setting the fastest lap in Friday's first free practice session ahead of Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.
Rosberg lapped the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring track in 1min 11.295sec, 0.140sec faster than Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and 0.311sec ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton initially set the pace but Rosberg quickly showed he was at ease on the historic Spielberg track, coming off after just 19 laps, while the Briton completed 32.
Although racing at home, Red Bull's four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and Canadian Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo struggled on the course, under an overcast sky and amid light rainy conditions.
Ricciardo set the 13th fastest lap, 1.275sec behind Rosberg, while Vettel had to settle for 15th at 1.693.
Friday's free practice was the drivers' first real opportunity to get to know the track and gather information ahead of Sunday's race.
The last time Spielberg hosted a Formula One event was in 2003.
But drivers have insisted this initial lack of knowledge will hardly matter once the first free practice is done and dusted.
The tricky last turn leading into the final straight proved especially challenging, with Vettel briefly spinning off after going wide in the corner, while Ricciardo also bit into the side of the track.
But the first practice was probably most disappointing for Caterham's Marcus Ericsson and Adrian Sutil of Sauber, whose session ended prematurely as their cars encountered technical problems.
"It's like the car just kind of switched itself off coming out of turn one," Caterham quoted Ericsson in a tweet, after the driver saw his car lifted off the track having completed just eight laps.
Sutil got one more lap in but "due to a broken hose, the turbo in Adrian Sutil's car does not work properly. He cannot get out again", Sauber said.
Mercedes is looking to prove it has put its power problems from Montreal behind it and to keep a resurgent Red Bull at bay.
A second practice session was planned for 2:00pm (1200GMT).
The provisional times for FP1:
|6||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:12.009||0.714||33|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:12.072||0.777||20|
|13||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:12.570||1.275||28|
|15||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:12.988||1.693||25|