Leclerc tops Verstappen in opening practice for French GP

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Charles Leclerc topped the times for Ferrari ahead of world champion and series leader Max Verstappen of Red Bull in Friday's opening free practice for this weekend’s French Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old Monegasque, who is seeking to complete a Ferrari hat-trick on Sunday, clocked a best lap in one minute and 33.930 seconds to outpace the series leader by less than a tenth of a second.

Leclerc's Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz, who has been given a 10-place grid penalty for the race after taking new power-train components, was third ahead of Mercedes' George Russell, Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri and Sergio Perez, in the second Red Bull.

Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of Alex Albon of Williams, Nyck de Vries who was replacing seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes, and Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren.

On a hot day in the south of France, the session began with an air temperature of 31 degrees at the Paul Ricard circuit, Sainz setting an early marker lap that was quickly beaten by Verstappen in 1:35.727.

De Vries, in Hamilton's Mercedes clocked an early 1:39.583 to find his way ahead of four other cars, but it was Verstappen, showing immediate pace, who extended his early advantage after 12 minutes in 1:34.991 as Leclerc dropped into second.

The Monegasque, in relaxed mood following his victory in Austria, complained his throttle felt 'inconsistent' before Perez spun at Turn Four in the second Red Bull and Verstappen trimmed his time again.

Sainz showed he too had the pace to compete at the front, briefly going top after 31 minutes before the Dutchman regained his ascendancy.

Leclerc responded for Ferrari with a lap in 1:33.930 to go top to outpace him by 0.091 with 14 minutes remaining.

Hamilton sat out the session to enable reserve driver Dutchman de Vries to have a mandatory practice opportunity, the Briton watching from the back of the Mercedes garage.

He had earlier made clear his frustration that one rival team was continuing to block the implementation of his diversity charter for the sport.

He did not name the team.

"We are very close to getting this diversity inclusion charter going and I think it's still one team, still the same team, is not willing to engage," he said.

"We've gone back and forth to them and for some reason they don't want to, but all the other nine teams have, which is really encouraging."

Hamilton's charter seeks more diversity and to help for people from under-represented backgrounds to enter the sport.

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