Mercedes dominate again in Sochi
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton ruled the roost in each of the Russian Grand Prix practice sessions on Friday, which also saw a back-of-the-grid start confirmed for standings leader Max Verstappen.
An unmatchable pace in second practice saw Bottas - 16/1 to repeat his 2020 win in Sochi - lead the way heaidng into the weekend, with partner and seven-time world champion Hamilton (8/11) just behind.
Bottas edges out Hamilton
The Briton clocked final figures just 0.044 seconds slower than those of his Finnish team-mate and is set to keep the pressure on Red Bull's Verstappen, his main rival for the drivers' crown.
Between them, the Mercedes pair have won six out of seven editions since the Russian race's reintroduction to the Formula 1 calendar in 2014 - Hamilton with claiming four victories to Bottas' two.
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Meanwhile, Verstappen will have to fight his way through the field if he is to build on his five-point lead at the top of the tree.
His team's decision to take on a fourth engine this season - more than the permitted three - due to damage sustained to the existing unit at Silverstone's British GP, demotes him to the rear of the pack for this weekend’s event.
Verstappen's chances damaged
This effect, however, is counterbalanced by the fact that the Dutchman had already been hit with a three-place grid penalty for his role in a crash involving Hamilton at the Italian GP on September 12th.
As for the remainder of the field, AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly follows the Mercedes one-two out of the blocks, with Lando Norris of McLaren and Esteban Ocon of Alpine completing the top five.
Verstappen ultimately rolled in in sixth, one place ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr of Ferrari.