Norris leads McLaren 1-2 as storm clouds loom at Silverstone

McLaren's British driver Lando Norris takes part in the first practice session ahead of the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone (BENJAMIN CREMEL)
McLaren's British driver Lando Norris takes part in the first practice session ahead of the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone (BENJAMIN CREMEL)

A beaming Lando Norris said he was excited by his prospects, but would prefer no further rain, after dominating both opening free practice sessions at the British Grand Prix on Friday.

Five days after his controversial crash with Max Verstappen, Norris set the pace with a 'double top' at Silverstone where he and McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri delivered a strong one-two before rain swept across the former wartime airfield.

"It’s a good start to the weekend," said the 24-year-old Briton, who was given warm backing by his home crowd. "Not the cleanest. I wasn't that comfortable this morning, but we made a few tweaks between the sessions and got into a nice window.

"It's a bit on the nose, a bit sketchy at high speeds, and twitchy, but we made progress. Mercedes seem just as quick but I don't think they turned up the engine for the final runs."

He added that he was glad the rain held off for most of the day for the sake of the crowd.

"It's Silverstone and it's England," he said. "And I am ready for anything, but my preference is to stay dry."

Showing no ill-effects after his collision with Verstappen – and its furious aftermath -- at last Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix, Norris thrilled his home fans by topping the times in both free practice sessions.

His best lap in one minute and 26.549 carried him 0.331 seconds clear of Piastri in a convincing McLaren one-two.

- 'Work to do' -

Behind the two McLarens, Red Bull's Sergio Perez enjoyed a welcome return to form by finishing third ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Haas, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

"The track is fine," said Hamilton, a record eight-time winner of his home event. "I'm just slow. We've got some work to do."

Series leader and three-time champion Verstappen was seventh in his Red Bull ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, Lance Stroll of Aston Martin and George Russell, last Sunday's victor, in the second Mercedes.

Piastri, who was second in both the sprint race and the Grand Prix last weekend, said he was pleased, but expected the forecast wet weather to influence Saturday and Sunday's action.

"If we can maintain the gap, it would be good," he said. "But the weather will play a big role. It’s going to be exciting."

Verstappen was unfazed by his seventh place ahead of a race he won last year.

"It was ok," he said. "I had just a little slide so I aborted my lap and on the softs it didn't go well so we have a bit of work to do. We have to do some analysis."

The Dutchman's team and team boss Christian Horner had earlier come in for heavy criticism from rival counterpart Zak Brown of McLaren, who accused Red Bull of 'lacking respect' for Formula One across a wide range of issues.

Brown's comments re-opened the debate sparked by last Sunday’s crash – for which Verstappen was blamed and handed a 10-second penalty – just one day after the two drivers had settled their differences.

It was a day of contrasting messages about a sport that this weekend hosts Brad Pitt's film crew as production continued for his Hollywood movie, with Hamilton involved as a co-producer.

Previously anonymous, it was named 'F1' by Formula One on Friday, not an original title, but an expensive and unequivocal one that cast a little glamour across a day of speed, rain and some acrimony.