The Red Bull driver ended the session top after being criticised for his driving style after contact on the opening lap in Mexico.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel took aim at Max Verstappen prior to the race, with the Brit saying, “I thought at some point I’d get torpedoed by Max,” later adding that the Dutchman is a ‘magnet’ for contact.
The Red Bull driver responded and said, “It was a silly comment to make. I think I’m always a hard racer, but fair.” He added, “It’s always positive when they talk about you because that means you’re in their head.”
The Mercedes driver is on the brink of his sixth World Championship but didn’t have it all his own way in FP1 after a late lap-time of 1:35.439 was enough for eighth place, over a second behind the Dutchman out in front.
The Silver Arrows were evidently focused on long-runs in the first session with Valtteri Bottas ending the session in 17th, but the Finn did complete 40-laps during FP1 – the most of any driver.
Vettel was Verstappen’s closest challenger ending the session in second, between both Red Bulls and ahead of his Ferrari teammate who only managed seventh.
2020 tyres make first appearance
The drivers were provided with two sets of the 2020 C4 soft compound tyres to use during both FP1 and FP2 to get a taste of what to expect next year.
Unlike the current sets of tyres, the 2020 tyre compound had no markings on and were plain black.
As the session progressed several drivers struggled on the new tyres, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz saying, “Yeah you were right, this tyre is ****, but I’ll try again.”
Trouble at Turn 19
Drivers were warned prior to the session that going wide at Turn 19 will result in the time set being deleted. Both Red Bull drivers fell victim to this with their times deleted after exceeding track limits.
Charles Leclerc and Hamilton also had lap-times deleted for track-extending at Turn 19 and it is expected that the final sector could be a problematic zone for the drivers throughout the weekend, with the stewards keen to prevent any sort of unfair advantage.
Former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson said, “I don’t like Turn 19. Not a fan of the delete your lap system since it happens so often.” He added, “ If I could choose I would put a gravel trap [on the outside of Turn 19].”
The cars also struggled with the bumpiness of the track on the main and back straights, where the cars were visibly bouncing all over the place. Hamilton’s Mercedes also struggled on the tarmac and the Brit even said, “This is the bumpiest track in the world.”
The rest of the field
Pierre Gasly continued his impressive form at Toro Rosso with fourth place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth who both showed good early pace.
At their home grand prix, Haas initially look stronger than in previous races, with Romain Grosjean ending the session in sixth ahead of his teammate Kevin Magnussen who finished tenth.
Lance Stroll was the stronger of the two Racing Point drivers and set a 1:35.586 which was enough to earn ninth placed finish, contrary to his teammate who was four-tenths off the pace in 14th.
The McLaren drivers had a session riddled with inconveniences as Lando Norris reported that his headrest had come loose, whilst the team were forced to fit a new floor to Sainz’ car.
The Spaniard also had an off in the third sector and was fortunate to avoid the barriers but destroyed his current set of tyres. He ended the session in 12th ahead of his teammate in 18th.
Nicholas Latifi, who replaced George Russell in FP1 for Williams, faced trouble midway through the session as his car pulled up at Turn 7 obstructing Verstappen. He managed to crawl back to the pits and the Canadian said, “Don’t know what happened there. The car just went into neutral.”
The Williams’ driver was unable to re-join the action and finished last behind his teammate Robert Kubica, with a gearbox change required before Russell heads out for FP2.