Daniel Ricciardo had his game face on for practice. Picture: Mark Thompson/Getty
Daniel Ricciardo had his game face on for practice. Picture: Mark Thompson/Getty

Ricciardo flies in practice but will start at the back

RED Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will start Sunday's Russian Grand Prix at the back of the grid after being penalised for exceeding the engine change limit.

The pair finished Friday's practice in the top four but then were sanctioned after it emerged the team switched engines more than three times in the session at Sochi's 5.8km Olympic Park circuit on Friday.

Despite the penalty, Ricciardo was still upbeat about his practice form for the Grand Prix.

"It almost sounds silly but I enjoyed driving around here," Ricciardo said. "Having the hyper-softs (tires) and having more grip around the circuit made it a pretty fun track to drive, so it was a good day."

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton continued to lead the way as Mercedes ended practice with the top two drivers, while Hamilton's closest competitor, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, struggled.

Hamilton, 40 points clear of Vettel with six races remaining, sent another message to his rival with a best time of one minute 33.385 seconds on the hyper-soft tyres.

Hamilton said he studied the track intensely after finishing fourth last year and his work had paid off.

"Sochi has been one of the weaker circuits for me in the past, particularly last year. So I've done a lot of work to understand the balance and see where I can improve," he said.

"It's been a good day for us, so let's hope that it continues tomorrow."

Vettel ended up only fifth-fastest, in 1:33.928, behind Red Bull pair Verstappen and Ricciardo.

"Not ideal," Vettel's said. "We struggled with the tires, with or without traffic. We have some catching up to do."

Vettel's Finnish teammate Kimi Raikkonen was sixth.

The grid penalty is a fresh blow for Ricciardo, who had sat out much of the morning with mechanics working on his car, after his season looked to be getting back on track after his sixth place finish in Singapore two weeks ago.

This is the fifth time in his past eight events that the 29-year-old, on the move to Renault for next season, has been hampered by mechanical issues.

The Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will start at the back of Sunday’s grid.
The Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will start at the back of Sunday’s grid.

The West Australian also had to start at the rear of the grid at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in August due to penalties for swapping to a new engine power unit.

After 21 events this season, Ricciardo is 155 points adrift of championship leader Hamilton with just six events remaining.

Second placed Vettel is also running out of time to rein in Hamilton, who has seven victories to his name this season, including four of the last five.

Mercedes have won every Russian Grand Prix since the first in 2014, with Hamilton twice victorious and teammate Valtteri Bottas winning last year after the now retired Nico Rosberg in 2016.

McLaren's Fernando Alonso, and Toro Rosso team drivers Pierre Gasly and New Zealander Brendon Hartley were also penalised in the second practice.

Replacing Alonso in the first free practice, Briton Lando Norris, McLaren's new driver starting from 2019, was the first to change his engine, which will allow the Spaniard to lead Ricciardo, Verstappen, Gasly and Hartley for Sunday's race.

- with AAP and EFE



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