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di Grassi tops first practice session in Zürich as Bird spins

As Switzerland’s first full motorsport session in 64 years goes live lakeside in Zurich, Sam Bird’s title fight took a blow as a spin on the straight damaged his steering and Lucas di Grassi made a return to form, taking the top time by over a second.

Going into the weekend, Jean-Eric Vergne leads the championship by 40 points. However, with 58 left on the table after this round, Bird still has the chance to catch him – and the battle for third between Felix Rosenqvist, Daniel Abt, Sebastien Buemi and di Grassi is separated by only a few points.

The 2.465km track features bumpy roads, a sharp chicane similar to Hong Kong and a series of right-angle turns in the middle section. A cobbled, extremely tight pit lane presents an additional challenge – with the possibility of minimum pit stop times being reintroduced here if the threatened rain does arrive, surface turning into a water slide.

Air temperature was 22C at the start of the session, track temperature 27C and humidity relatively low for the lakeside location at a mere 78% at 9am.

A good time here was under 1:14s, initially only Nelson Piquet Jr got there with an early 1:13.903s, followed ten minutes later by his teammate Mitch Evans beating him by a tenth on 1:13.803s, then Jose-Maria Lopez immediately after on 1:13.764s – while his own teammate Jerome d’Ambrozio languished on a 1:17.197s.

Rosenqvist found himself under investigation for speeding in the pit lane, mid-session. Pit lane speeds here, due to the unusual surface, are lower than usual – 30km/h for the whole 150m pit in/out straight.

Daniel Abt’s thirteenth lap saw him top the times on a 1:13.664s, beaten by Evans on the following lap on a massively improved 1:13.138s, suggesting the circuit could get much quicker as dust clears from the road surface over the day.

Bird took a spin on the straight after being caught out by former team-mate Jose Maria Lopez on a hot lap, saving the car from the wall but clearly foxing the steering – not what the championship contender would have wanted from FP1 in a strange skid where he seemed to be evading Lopez ahead of him, on a slower lap. He brought the car back to the garages but DS Virgin confirmed that work was needed to ready it for the following sessions.

di Grassi made an enormous late charge – with a 200kW lap that hit 1:11.995s – over a second clear of Evans’ best lap. No one was able to further split them, with the top five ending with the Audi and Jaguar drivers entangled as di Grassi, Evans, Abt, Piquet Jr and a storming lap from Oliver Turvey topped the times.