Verstappen topped the timesheets on Friday

Silverstone (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Max Verstappen outpaced championship leader Lewis Hamilton to top the times for Red Bull in Friday’s opening free practice for this weekend’s British Grand Prix.

The Dutchman clocked a best lap in one minute and 27.422 seconds to beat Hamilton’s Mercedes by 0.474 seconds.

As the action began in hot weather at the fourth round of this year’s coronavirus-delayed Formula One season, Lance Stroll confirmed the pace and potential of his controversial Racing Point ‘pink Mercedes’ by claiming third place ahead of Alexander Albon in the second Red Bull.

Charles Leclerc was fifth for an improved Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, Esteban Ocon and his Renault team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg in the second Racing Point and Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri.

Hulkenberg, drafted in overnight by the Silverstone-based Racing Point outfit, was only six-tenths off Stroll’s time, a very solid showing for a man who, 24 hours earlier, had no idea that he would be back in F1.

The German was just 1.1 seconds slower than Verstappen on his return in an unfamiliar, but fast, car –- the subject of successive protests, challenging its integrity and originality, from Renault.

On a hot day in central England, the air temperature was 31 degrees and the track 48 in front of empty grandstands and campsites.

Hulkenberg was the centre of attention as he made his first F1 appearance since the end of last season, but it was young Briton Lando Norris who topped the early times for McLaren ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull who soon cut his time to take top spot.

The session was red-flagged to a halt after 28 minutes when Antonio Giovinazzi spun his Alfa Romeo at Becketts, soon after team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had spun at Luffield.

Once the debris was cleared, the action resumed, but without Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari announcing that he was grounded by an intercooler problem.

Predictably, the two ‘black arrows’ were soon setting the pace with Hamilton ahead of Bottas by six-tenths on the medium tyres until Verstappen responded again on softs to go top.