Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed his best Friday practice of 2020 on a day Formula One confirmed it has recorded the sport’s biggest coronavirus spike this year.
The Australian was second-fastest in the first practice session of the Russian Gand Prix, before backing that up by going third-quickest in the second.
He was 1.058 seconds slower than Valtteri Bottas who topped the afternoon session, 0.267 seconds ahead of his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
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McLaren drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were in fourth and fifth respectively, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen struggled for pace in seventh.
Ricciardo was pleased with the day’s work in Sochi, saying: “It was probably the first time I’ve ever really been hooked up around here.
“It felt good! Was good really out of the box, we didn’t make too many changes today.”
Asked if he can stay in the top three come Sunday, he said: “If we could put it here in quali, then for sure, I’d be confident of that…
“But I think there’s all the cars that are around two or three-tenths (of a second) of us – I’m sure that’ll be the battle tomorrow. I think it’s all going to close up, so if we can get to stay that tenth ahead, we’ll look alright.”
Meanwhile, the sport said it had returned its highest number of positive Covid-19 test results, hours before welcoming a significant number of spectators to a race for the first time this year.
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The F1 organisation and the sport’s ruling body the International Motoring Federation (FIA) said they had discovered seven cases of coronavirus following 3,256 tests between September 18 and September 24.
The tests are carried out every five days on the teams’ staff, drivers and all paddock and news media personnel.
This weekend’s event is the first major international sports event of the Covid-19 era to have a significant crowd of spectators after the Russian promoters claim to have sold 30,000 tickets for Sunday’s race.
Seven of the ten teams are based in Britain where the number of reported cases of infection has risen rapidly in recent weeks.
There had been 44,000 tests carried out during the opening nine races, run in a sequence of three triple-headers and under serious protocol for behaviour in bubbles – with a total of nine positive results overall and not more than two in a single week.
The practice of operating strict bubbles and sub-bubbles and restricting movement under tight guidelines faces its biggest test of the season this weekend.
Russia confirmed 7,212 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday to take the overall total to 1,136,048, according to The Moscow Times.