SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 7 – Lewis Hamilton delivered an emphatic signal of his intent when he completed a Friday double by topping the times for Mercedes in both practice sessions for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
In the wake of the controversy that followed championship leader Sebastian Vettel’s ‘road rage’ attack at last month’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton had decided to put the incident behind him and do his talking on the track.
The Briton, at his sizzling best despite power problems with his car, clocked a best time of one minute and 5.483 seconds in the afternoon’s second session to outpace Vettel’s Ferrari by 0.147 seconds.
It was a record lap for the Red Bull Ring, where he had set the previous best time in first practice, beating his own record set last year by two tenths of a second.
Hamilton is 14 points behind Vettel in the standings after eight of 20 races and needs strong results in Austria and his home British Grand Prix next week to regain lost ground on the German, who believes he can close the gap on Saturday in qualifying.
“Hopefully, we can be more competitive tomorrow,” said Vettel. “I don’t expect a repeat of Baku. That was a one-off in many ways and the gap was too big.
“It looks close here so let’s see. It’s a short track and it will be close. Mercedes are very quick again and they are the favourites, but Fridays are different… Let’s see. We should be ok tomorrow.”
Hamilton complained of power problems and pitted for new spark plugs during the session, but the problem persisted.
The three-time world champion’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
Bottas’ fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Dane Kevin Magnussen of Haas, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the second Haas car.
On a perfect summer’s day in the Styrian Alps when threatened rain did not arrive, second practice was punctuated by incidents that included Ricciardo pitting for a new turbo, Hamilton requiring a change of spark plug, Bottas spinning and Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso hurrying home with the rear brakes ablaze.
Alonso’s performance suggested that after so long in the doldrums McLaren had found some extra pace as a result of the introduction of an upgraded engine.